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FLYBOY

THE

GREG

TATE
READER

GREG TATE

Flyboy 2

FLYBOY

2
The Greg Tate Reader
greg tate

Duke University Press Durham and London 2016

2016 Greg Tate


All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper
Designed by Amy Ruth Buchanan
Typeset in Chaparral Pro by Westchester
Publishing Ser vices
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Tate, Greg, author.
Title: Flyboy 2 : the Greg Tate reader / Greg Tate.
Description: Durham : Duke University Press, 2016. |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: lccn2015049621
isbn 9780822361800 (hardcover : alk. paper)
isbn 9780822361961 (pbk. : alk. paper)
isbn9780822373995 (e-book)
Subjects: lcsh: African AmericansMusicHistory and
criticism. | Popular musicUnited StatesHistory
and criticism.
Classification: lcc ml3479.t35 2016 | ddc 781.64089/96073dc23
lc record available athttp://lccn.loc.gov/2015049621

Cover art: RobertA. Pruitt, Stunning Like My Daddy, 2011.


Courtesy of the artist.

ForMama Tatestill the First Reader


who matters the most . . .
For Dr. Chinara TateRock On
Starchile in the wilds of Cognition
and Nutritional Justice
For the Grand Sun Nile Steven
Woodsdreamer, bon vivant, bestdressed man in Gotham, and the
inventor of three-dimensional dragon
sculptures

Contents

Introduction: Lust, of All Things (Black) 1


1. The Black Male Show

Amiri Baraka 9
Wayne Shorter 16
Jimi Hendrix 24
John Coltrane 41
Gone Fishing: Remembering Lester Bowie 44
The Black Artists Group 50
Butch Morris 55
Charles Edward Anderson Berry and the History of Our Future 57
Lonnie Holley 68
Marion Brown (19312010) and Djinji Brown 71
Dark Angels of Dust: David Hammons and the Art of Streetwise
Transcendentalism 73
BillT. Jones: Combative Moves 78
Gary Simmons: Conceptual Bomber 81
The Persistence of Vision: Storyboard P 83
Ice Cube 91
Wynton Marsalis: Jazz Crusader 102
Thornton Dial: Free, Black, and Brightening Up the Darkness
of the World 110
Kehinde Wiley 124
Rammellzee: The Ikonoklast Samurai 127
Richard Pryor: Pryor Lives 136
Richard Pryor 146
Gil Scott-Heron 149
The Man in Our Mirror: Michael Jackson 152
Miles Davis 158

2. She Laughing Mean and Impressive Too

Born to Dyke: I Love My Sister Laughing and Then Again


When Shes Looking Mean, Queer, and Impressive 167
Joni Mitchell: Black and Blond 175
Azealia Banks 177
Sade: Black Magic Woman 180
All the Things You Could Be by Now If James Brown
Was a Feminist 186
Itabari Njeri 193
Kara Walker 196
Women at the Edge of Space, Time, and Art:
Ruminations on Candida Romeros Little Girls 202
Ellen Gallagher 208
To Bid a Poet Black and Abstract 210
The Gikuyu Mythos versus the Cullud Grrrl from
Outta Space: A Wangechi Mutu Feature 213
Come Join the Hieroglyphic Zombie Parade:
Deborah Grant 219
Bjrks Second Act 223
Thelma Golden 228
3. Hello Darknuss My Old Meme

Top Ten Reasons Why So Few Black Women Were


Down to Occupy Wall Street Plus Four More 235
What Is Hip-Hop? 239
Intelligence Data: Bob Dylan 242
Hip-Hop Turns Thirty 246
Love and Crunk: Outkast 252
White Freedom: Eminem 254
Wu-Dunit: Wu-Tang Clan 256
Unlocking the Truth vs. John Cage 260
4. Screenings

Spike Lees Bamboozled 265


Its a Mack Thing 270
Sex and Negrocity: John Singletons Baby Boy 272
Lincoln in Whiteface: Jeffrey Wright and Don Cheadle
in Suzan-Lori Parkss Topdog/Underdog 275
The Black Power Mixtape 278

5. Race, Sex, Politricks, and Belles Lettres

Clarence Major 285


The Atlantic Sound: Caryl Phillipss The Atlantic Sound 288
Apocalypse Now: Patricia Hill Collinss Black Sexual Politics;
Thomas Shevorys Notorious H.I.V.; Jacob Levensons
The Secret Epidemic 290
Blood and Bridges 292
Nigger-Tude 296
Triple Threat: Jerry Gafio Wattss Amiri Baraka; Hazel Rowleys
Richard Wright; David Maceys Frantz Fanon 299
Bottom Feeders: Natsuo Kirinos Out 306
Scaling the Heights: Maryse Conds Windward Heights 307
Fear of a Mongrel Planet: Zadie Smiths White Teeth 310
Adventures in the Skin Trade: Lisa Teasleys Glow in the Dark 313
Generations Hexed: Jeffery Renard Allens Rails under My Back 315
Going Underground: Gayl Joness Mosquito 317
Judgment Day: Toni Morrisons Love and EdwardP. Joness
The Known World 320
Black Modernity and Laughter, or How It Came to Be That
N*g*as Got Jokes 322
Kalahari Hopscotch, or Notes toward a Twenty-Volume
Afrocentric Futurist Manifesto 330
Sources 343
Index 347

Introduction
Lust, of All Things (Black)

There are only two subjectsrace and sexand we alternate between the
two. We recall the filmmaker Sandye Wilson dropping this maxim on Lisa
Jones around 1986. Most likely after Lisa had made some self-deprecating
comment about the content, or supposed lack thereof, of one of her own
smart, racy, surreal plays about the politics of Black desire for her company Rodeo Caldonia High Performance Theatre. Wilsons quip stuck with
me (and to me) because like every other growing American boy I had
long been equally obsessed with both of those vast, irreducible, and inexhaustible subjects. Race, generally equated with politics, is really in the
American context a branch of metaphysics, aesthetics, and anthropology
representing a far broader body of concerns where you can readily leapfrog between sex, death, religion, criminality, linguistics, music, genetics,
athletics, fashion, medicine, you name it, in the name of African liberation and self-determination. For a Black American artist at this stage
of history race is the gift that keeps on giving, an encyclopedic way of
framing, examining, and mirroring the world in ways that can aspire to be
as poetic, prophetic, polemical, and poignant as that metamorphic, metaphoric machine we know by that crafty and elusive catchall Black Culture.
Of course, what I myself have really been intrigued by all along is
something less quantifiable than Black Culture and even Black Identity
and Black Consciousness, and that something is what my friend Arthur
Jafa has termed Black Cognitionthe way Black people think, mentally, emotionally, physically, cryptically how those ways of thinking and
being inform our artistic choices.
Stanley Crouch once told me he thought my real subject was Myth,
and to a certain extent thats true, inasmuch as I think that the most
fabulous things about any people are the legends they produce. But as
true as that is, Im interested in the play and whimsy, the process as it
were, which preceded the formal production of the myth. Black Rock
guitarist Ronny Drayton relates how when he was learning to play, older
cats told him when he studied someones solo to try and imagine that
players intentionswhat had he been feeling to make him play a certain

way, what story was he trying to tell. James Baldwin was once asked if he
thought Black people were better than white people. Baldwin replied in
the negative but went on to say he did think Black people had a greater
capacity for experience, which I always took to mean we had the best stories and storytellers. (This is how we know Jesus was Blackhe talked a
new religion into existence and it stuck.)
The arenas where Black people have had the most visible, visceral, and
profound impact on the modern world have been those in which we can
freely repurpose our experiences, our wagging tongues, our fun. Black
Cultures and Black Cognition tend to privilege the structuring and stylizing of the bloody improvisational moment. Whats proven remarkable
about the way Black people play with such self-invented forms is how
we inevitably devise these call-and-response languages that other folk,
worldwide, feel compelled to emulate.
As in physics, where the most esthetic equations are generally proven
to be the correct ones, the most beautiful and approximate abstractions
of the forces of nature, Black improvisational languages in music, dance,
poetry, art, and athletics owe their charisma to their elegance, their risk
taking, and to their invitational, democratic, come-one, come-all viral,
virile, vulnerable, vernacular engineering.
Because I had been intensely reading listening thinking arguing
about jazz, blues, and funk in this high-handed way since I was, oh, the
age of twelve, by the time I was twenty-three and began writing for the
Village Voice I was a sure case of precocious cogitation and preparation
meeting opportunity and maybe even destiny. I also knew like Crouch,
Baraka, and Ellison before me that Black music was a unique, insightful mechanism for comprehending how people of African descent had
survived, transcended, transmuted, and transmogrified their horrible
American experience. What I knew that my critical elders didnt by sheer
dint of generational accident, access, and affinity was that hip-hop mattered from the get-go. That once again, the African American working
class, best described by my old landlord and mentorA.B. Spellman as
the most despised and feared group of people on this earth, had created
another vernacular, improvisational form for addressing their condition
and the condition of the world. Of course I also knew hip-hop mattered
because it replicated, revoiced, and extended rhythmic, sonic, and collage effects Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix, and
George Clinton had renovated in their very Afrocentrically Expressionist musics of the sixties and seventies. More to the point, I recognized
that if I wanted more of where that marvelously head-chargey kind of
funk came from, it was only going to come from hip-hop.
2

Introduction

Though born in 1957, I am not a child of the sixties but, like most who
define the hip-hop generation, a child of the seventies. What being a
child of the seventies meant for any young Black man trying to become a
writer middecade was coming to terms with Black feminism in literature,
visual art, and politics and the innate, emergent, and self-authorizing
power of Black women in general. This leg of the journey began at Howard University in the midseventies, where several annual writers conferences made clear that the most provocative, innovative, and insistent voices in African American novels, poetry, drama, and criticism in
the moment were named Audre Lorde, Adrienne Kennedy, Toni Morrison, Jayne Cortez, Ai, Thulani Davis, Ntozake Shange, Gayl Jones,
Michelle Wallace, Barbara Smith, Alice Walker.
Being at Howard at the time also meant becoming awarevia filmmaker and professor Haile Gerimas coursesof 3rd world cinema,
which included an independent Black cinema movement led by Gerimas
ucla classmates Charles Barnett, Larry Clarke, and Julie Dash, the work
of Ousmane Sembne, and the revolutionary cinema emerging from
Cuba, like Lucia, and Argentinas The Hour of the Furnace.
Being at Howard then also meant encountering the Africentric expressionism of the Africobra school of painters, many of whom were
then teaching or lecturing at the schoolAl Smith, Frank Smith, James
Phillips, Nelson Stevens, and the late department chair, Jeff Donaldson
(not to mention the phenomenal Ethiopian Skunder Boghossian).
Being the child of lifetime Pan-Afrikanist Florence Tate meant the
same woman who introduced me to the recordings of Aretha Franklin,
Malcolm X, and Nina Simone via heavy rotation in our home would also
break the music of Jimmy Cliff and Fela for us. Being the brother of
Brian Tate, one of Washington, DCs first Black punks, meant the Clash,
Bad Brains, Talking Heads, the Sex Pistols, James White and the Blacks,
and Siouxsie and the Banshees became enveloped in my conception of
the funk. Becoming friends with Vernon Reid in 1979, three years before
I moved to New York, meant I actually knew someone who was inventing
a life for himself at the intersection of free jazz, punk rock, hip-hop, and
harmolodic funk. A combustive mixture of elements downtown Gotham
loudly proclaimed was going to be late twentieth-century arts new lingua franca. Becoming a friend of Linda BryantTribecas only African
American gallerist and conceptual art curatormeant meeting David
Hammons, Senga Nengudi, BillT. Jones, Adrian Piper, Houston Conwill,
Lorna Simpson, and Fred Wilson, moments after becoming aware of their
existence and sensibilities. What befriending Thulani Davis in the midseventies meant was that when she told me to send Robert Christgau some
Lust, of All Things (Black) 3

work I did, and when Christgau said, The more writing like this I get in
the paper the better Ill like it, I knew I was being given a license to ill
on paper. Coming into the game my influences were the usual suspects
Baraka, Ishmael Reed, Pynchon, Marquez, Lester Bangs, and HunterS.
Thompson. Coming into it at the once all-seeing all-thinking all-knowing
Voice meant I could be me, be free and not what somebodys style manual
said I had to bea monumental gift to a young writer. Being at the Voice
throughout the eighties and early nineties also meant jumping into a
hotbed slash clusterfuck of radical-critical Black American thought
straight gay feminist and supermachothanks to my writer and editor
colleagues Thulani, Carol Cooper, Stanley Crouch, Playthell Benjamin, Nelson George, Barry Michael Cooper, Harry Allen, Lisa Jones, Lisa Kennedy,
Hilton Als, James Hannaham, Jill Nelson, Angela Ards, Yvette Porter, Ben
Mapp, Donald Suggs, Peter Noel, Paul Miller, Joan Morgan, Rob Marriott,
dream hampton, Karen Good. Nice work yall. We about rocked that joint.
For a good hot minute. Cest le muhfukn vie. Quoth the ravens forevermore.
But so there I was, in the right place at the right time with the right
rhymes and other progressive right Negroid and Caucasoid rhymemakers. It was also the crack time and Reagan time too, have no doubt. And
living on Sugar Hill in Harlems Washington Heights, where one night
all the Jamaican weed dealers got ushered out and all the Dominicano
dealers went to work with seemingly no legal impediments the next day,
you got to see and hearpop pop pop til the breakadawnwhat the
drug war was really about. This was also a time when police brutality
and other forms of hate crimes were up and Minister Farrakhan played
the Garden more often than Run DMC and Jesse Jackson was running
and running and by the time Public Enemy released It Takes a Nation of
Millions to Hold Us Back it did seem like Amiri Barakas Nation Time all
over againthat Black people were coalescing into some kind of movement for justice and freedom and Afrocentric/ghettocentric expression
everywhere, in local politics, in film thanks to Spike Lee and the Hudlin
Brothers and John Singleton, in theater thanks to August Wilson, and
thanks to the crew coming through the Voice at that time in weekly journalism as well. When future scholars want to know what it felt like to be
Black, think Black, marinate Black in Gotham City in those decades it is
to the Voice archives they will go. Believe that.
Of course a lot of us back then also all believed hip-hop was the unstoppable revolution come. Not hard to understand since like jazz in the
sixties it seemed to present a breathtakingly novel reformulation of its
avant-garde baadass attitude every other week. Ergo a lot of Voice people
wound up at the Source and Vibe too, thereby creating the journalistic
4

Introduction

culture and profession that now allows Nelson George, Barry Michael
Cooper, and myself to sit back and laugh at the fact that hip-hop journalist, a label once considered oxymoronic, is now something you can
proudly scribble as occupation on your tax return.
I feel like I was somewhat removed from much caring about the state
and fate of hip-hop by the time Tupac and Biggie began publicly feuding, certainly by the time they were murdered, but this isnt trueI still
care very deeply and know thats just a wounded protectiveness talking.
Like a lot of folk, I also knew the party, the hip-hop movement, was
truly over when Puffy, a major talent scout but no talent, got the nerve
to get on the micand went platinum! This became the handwriting
on the wall if only because it signified that Black Mediocrity was now as
commercially viable in hip-hop as Black Genius, the same fate that had
already befallen jazz and soul in the eighties.
But hip-hop, like Black music always has been and always will be, is
the most accurate arbiter of the zeitgeist, of the consciousness of the
people and of the age. And insofar as this moment is defined by sex,
shopping, terror, and virtual life and death, hip-hop remains our most
prophetic cultural pulse taker, raker, and shaker. Bush, bin Laden, Fifty
Cent, Paris Hilton, Fox News, ringer tones, and the iPod shufflethese
are actually what constitute our real world, peoplea world of loops,
break beats, random bombings, bootleg videos, faked realness, and manipulated fears; its all of a piece, it all runs together nicely, dont you
think, quite wickedly in fact, welcome to the twenty-first century, not
what you hoped for is it?, love it or leave it, sing along with me.
Premillennium tension and my hip-hop divorce aside, however, by the
midnineties I was trying to make a little music of my own. Threw myself wholeheartedly, really, into Black rock improv bands with oblique
feminist names like Women in Love, Mack Diva, Strange but Beautiful,
Medusa Oblongata, and, since 1999, Burnt Sugar, the Arkestra Chamber. The latter of which more than anything is about me trying to make
the genre-bending Black music Id like to hear but cannot find. I got so
much joy out of it that I found myself thinking in moments of ecstasy
and delirium that Id rather be a mediocre musician than a great writer.
Its not true, but I relate to the sentiment simply because like anyone
with a heart, I love the social part of music far more than the social part
of writing, which is, need it be said, nil. The real drawback, though, for
a critic composing and performing music as a coprofession is that your
edge and killer instinct go kaput. Another occupational hazard of a profession as narcissistic as playing live music is that you can become less
concerned with what everybody else is doing. So though I continued to
Lust, of All Things (Black) 5

write about music I allotted more time in the nineties to writing fiction,
plays, and lyrics, as well as literary, film, theater, and visual arts criticism
and op-ed pieces. I also felt emboldened enough to get a little raw and
personal in the sharing of certain sexual obsessions at the behest of
Rebecca Walker, who for her book To Be Real commissioned what became published in the Voice as The Black Lesbian Inside Mea rare
occasion of my Black male-feminist fantasies run amok.
Now comes the sound of a man patting his own back, if not ducking
his own sic.
What Ive come to realize upon reviewing this quarter centurys worth
of work is that I have come to occupy a somewhat unique position in the
constellation of African American writing by keeping one ear to the
street, one ear to the academy, and a phantom third hearing organ to my
own little artsy-fartsy corner of Gotham and Brooklyns Black bohemia.
By addressing myself to sifting through the crossfire messages all three
were beaming into my brain, I have managed to carve out something
of a sui generis, signature, and quite eclectic legacy in African American
criticism. That I was able to do so and maintain the ability to constantly
laugh at myself while thinking out loud and growing up in public is what
I think makes these pieces somewhat still readable years and decades
after the fact. It also, Id like to believe, gives them some kind of useful
purpose as a rude and proper model for my literary inheritors. A little
something of a tool kit for the next intrepid scribe who wants to take on
all of Black Culture, Sexuality, Consciousness and Cognition, high and
low, hood and hermeneutical. A field guide for an array of rhetorical operations she can deploy whenever shes ready to toss her vernacular riffs
and metafoolishness (per George Clinton) into the high-critical tabloid
mix of her generations changing same moment (per Amiri Baraka), and
at an uncautious, self-indulgent, talking-out- that-ass tempo roughly
equivalent to the childs own brazen temperament, unbridled curiosity,
bloody improvisational nerve, and beautiful, dutiful, devotional lust for
all things Black. Our Black lives, creative acts, political plots, and transAfrican legacies been mattering here for a good long while.

Introduction