Vernon “Spot” Barnett carries his eighty years like a gentleman, his storied career working with Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Charles, James Brown and closer to home – Bobby Blue Bland and the West Side horns with Doug Sahm and Augie Meyer, gracing decades and genres with his signature style. A native of San Marcos, Texas, Spot is a local icon and friend of our hostess, Becky Tomblin, who has sponsored many musicians from San Antonio to Austin. Lucky Tomblin, bandleader and producer of the Clifford Antone biopic Antone’s, Home of the Blues was a beloved patron of artists and musicians who continue struggling to make it in towns that have become far too expensive for them to live.
Enjoy this master sax man and storyteller, a wise and shining soul of eighty years, still in love with life.
In 1985, I was one of many bohemian artists hanging around Dixie’s Bar and Bus Stop, a music video show that aired on the now defunct Austin Music Channel. Working at the Amdur Gallery, creating satirical videos, drawing and painting, playing soccer and riding my bike (see Riffing on Patti Smith) – life was good. And Austin was great! In honor of International Women’s Day, I offer the many faces of Sydney Wallace, starring in MirrorMirror.
Human progress may unfold more obliquely than forward and back, but life is change. I suspect one of the reasons we have generations to discover who we are is because mortality is a key to our humanity. As David Bowie said, we can’t trace time.
Between fear and love, our greatest sins and most beautiful creations define us. We are so close, yet so far from our best – lost in the desert with God the angry Father, who is too busy putting his fingers in the dyke of our Abrahamic religions to teach us human kindness. The son of God made love the foundation of his message, with limited success and the caveat of a second coming, flaming sword in hand. That has certainly given man’s inhumanity some deep cover, and something to look forward to: a Day of Judgement, the End Times. Warrior cults are really death cults, despite their promise of resurrection.
Time to take another look at the Man in the Mirror
Michael Jackson 1988
After watching I am Not Your Negro and seeing the sneering, hate filled faces and the violence of white, American men, it’s easy to understand why James Baldwin lived abroad for so many years.
It wasn’t so much a matter of choosing France—it was a matter of getting out of America. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me in France but I knew what was going to happen to me in New York. If I had stayed there, I would have gone under, like my friend on the George Washington Bridge.
You say the city beat him to death. You mean that metaphorically.
Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.
Yet we do not give up hope, despite our cruelty and our greed. It’s time to wake up and give our children a world built on peace, on respect and on kindness. Let the patriarchy go, make a place for all people and change is gonna come.
It’s been a long time coming. Since Europeans came to the New World (new to them) and started killing the indigenous people, our collective shadow has loomed large, often obscuring the idealism that created our republic. During and after the decimation of Native tribes, European Amerikans captured and enslaved Africans, who were then used, abused, bought and sold. Women were also subject to the rule of white men, the only persons deemed worthy of owning property, voting and governing. So, it’s not surprising that another white male will soon be installed as “the leader of the free world.”
Despite her qualifications, Hillary Clinton and untried Donald Trump polled as two of the most deeply disliked candidates in history. They were ripe for shadow projections from people angry about many different things. The voters picked the candidate who best reflected their anger, fear and aggression, one who capitalized on a willingness to ignore important precedents like releasing tax returns or refusing to disavow the Ku Klux Klan. PEOTUS did insist that these acts stop only after he was elected by pandering to white supremacists. And he still hasn’t released his taxes.
When we try to explain “wha happened,” it defies reason. Truth took a back seat to propaganda and there is no apparent end in sight. Propaganda targets the emotions, those racist dog whistles and fake news stories that were so successful in driving fearful, angry voters to the polls. They speak directly to the unconscious. We chose to repress guilt, shame, truth and let territoriality and greed light the way back to Amerika’s greatness again. Rather than facing our ourselves in the twisting labyrinth of our collective unconscious, we project our fear, anger and hatred onto each other, manifesting the collective shadow.
‘‘The shadow,’’ wrote Jung (1963), is a primordial part of our human inheritance, which, try as we might, can never be eluded. The pervasive Freudian defense mechanism known as projection is how most people deny their shadow, unconsciously casting it onto others so as to avoid confronting it in oneself. Such projection of the shadow is engaged in not only by individuals but groups, cults, religions, and entire countries, and commonly occurs during wars and other contentious conflicts in which the outsider, enemy or adversary is made a scapegoat, dehumanized, and demonized. Two World Wars and the current escalation of violence testify to the terrible truth of this collective phenomenon. Since the turn of the twenty-first century we are witnessing a menacing resurgence of epidemic demonization or collective psychosis in the seemingly inevitable violent global collision between radical Islam and Judeo-Christian or secular western culture, each side projecting its collective shadow and perceiving the other as evil incarnate. As it becomes harder to tamp down the strong emotions that remain unexpressed, autonomous complexes are created. These complexes can act independent of reason, morality and even self-preservation.”
This election was bought and sold by every trick of our collective shadow. Half of eligible voters stayed home and half of the remaining voters succumbed to our collective bias toward bipolar rule. Unconscious sheeple are easy pickings for the big bad wolves of Wall Street. Didn’t we just learn that lesson? Wake up already. The shadow demands our attention so we can become whole.
About that ray of hope. Thanks to the leadership of the water protectors at Standing Rock, American Indians confronted corporate Amerika and won. The world was watching, and many came to help. Then hundreds, thousands of war veterans marched to serve as human shields for those who stood up for the river. They were willing to shield the water protectors from the water cannons, the dog bites and the rubber bullets of the storm troopers, to protect the right of the people to resist incursion. These veterans then publicly acknowledged the genocide, the broken treaties, the brutality.
They apologized and were shown forgiveness. Our soldiers fought the shadow: the guilt, shame and horror and were forgiven by its victims. This is an act of consciousness, a light shining in the shadows that threaten to control us. Tears streamed from my eyes as I watched Wesley Clark Jr. name the violence we wrought on the Lakota Nation. As he kneeled before Chief Leonard Crow Dog, everyone was moved to tears. His radical act of bravery, of truth began a healing, “World Peace” as Leonard Crow Dog announced with his blessing. We are indebted to the indigenous people who should receive reparations from the government instead of more betrayals.
Owning the truth begins withdrawing the shadow projections, the blame and the shame and offers hope for beginning anew. The shadow is in and all around us. It thrives on ignorance, fear and rage, in violence and despair. Calling it out, naming it and beginning to make amends goes a long way in repairing the damage our denial perpetuates. These warriors and community activists will go to Flint, MI next, where poor people (largely African American) do not have potable water and the mayor is talking about not providing drinking water for his citizens who have suffered from lead pipe contamination for years. White Amerika must also acknowledge the horror perpetuated by slavery. It is time to make amends to our people who continue to suffer the sins of white entitlement, of privileging the few over the many. Only when we confront our ongoing immoral, opportunistic policies will the shadow begin to lose it’s power and be integrated into a mature, responsible society. It’s up to us, this battle is worth waging.
After an interminable, almost two year primary and presidential election battle, Donald J. Trump prevailed with the majority of electoral college votes. His opponent, Hillary Clinton is still gaining popular votes in California and will likely have one to two million votes more than Trump. The electorate is divided almost equally between men and women; those with or without a college degree and urban and rural voters. Voters who were disenfranchised from both parties wrote in candidates or chose from the Libertarian or Green Party, which racked up more than 4% of the combined vote. Ralph Nader, who helped to ensure George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore, garnered 2.7% of the vote for the Green Party in 2000. For more details, see this Washington Post article. Of course, only half of eligible voters voted in this election.
“A lot of us in rural areas, our ears are tuned to intonation,” said Davis, who lives in Whitesburg, Kentucky, a Trump stronghold. “We think people are talking down to us. What ends up happening is that we don’t focus on the policy — we focus on the tones, the references, the culture.”
Intonation over policy suited Trump’s campaign strategy to a T.
A Pew Research article on changing demographic voting trends in presidential elections since 1980 shows white voters sticking together with a growing split in non and college educated populations. A 30% showing of Latino voters breaking for Trump also warns against conflating various groups (those of Cuban and Mexican origin, for example) which diverged in their choices and helped deliver Florida to the Republicans. While turnout was down from the Obama elections, Black voters were solidly Democratic.
Issues of race, trade and gender dominated election coverage, with little or no attention paid to environmental concerns or to substantive policy discussions. The race to the bottom has further estranged Democrats and Republicans and both parties are likely to suffer fragmentation and serious realignment. So in this messy, polarized America, what is to become of the children?
When rural and urban cultures are almost exclusively self-replicating, we need to find ways to communicate our commonality. If we don’t, the same pattern of lurching from dispossessed right to left and back again will prevail. Aren’t you sick and tired of those who are in power pitting us against each other? Will they ever have enough?
The American chessboard is littered with corporate robber barons competing for public resources from: Nestle, who is buying water and claiming it is not a fundamental human resource, to legislation opening protected parklands for oil and gas drilling and privatizing taxpayer funded entitlements to bankroll the empire. Global movements toward authoritarian regimes are accelerating and aspiring oligarchs are circling. Everyday people are suffering the consequences, yet refusing to join together because the incessant rhetoric of fear and hate on 24/7 news cycles ensures mistrust. Those news outlets are also owned by a few billionaires.
There are so many issues to discuss, this city and country divide is just one. But, it is a conversation that must begin. I’m thinking around food and maybe farming. In the meantime . . .
The phrase “clawing back” surfaced during the congressional hearings about Wells Fargo bank account manipulations. It refers to taking back a portion of the golden parachute entitled CEOs receive once they leave a company, trailing a raft of shady deals behind, made at their employees’ expense.
Clawing back because men have set the standards, defined the form, the value and their desire to possess beauty for centuries. In this “men’s world”, beauty is visually focused and sexualized. It’s about having your cake and eating it too. Beauty, defined as:
an object that portrays a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.
It’s the shiny skin, the package, but mostly the wrapper. We see it, we want it, we will have it.
From 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman:
Dominant culture directs men to access beauty through the other, in sexual union with women. Even inner beauty is largely portrayed as feminine. Those stereotypes are changing, but the current state of political discourse has shined a spotlight on men’s fears that electing a woman President will put the brakes on grabbing what you want. It’s a threat to beauty as a commodity, which is used and then discarded like any old wrapper. Their entitlement is waning and an increase in misogyny and violence against women reflects this resentment.
Beauty is different for women. Women are encouraged to embody beauty and have a more nuanced and relational visual representation, as portrayed in Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc‘s Atlas of Beauty.
We come closer to being in rather than consuming beauty as:
the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).
In our current culture, beauty’s spiritual qualities are largely ignored, save the occasional nature scene or an emotionally tender moment that evokes the union of love and beauty. Again, the visual element predominates but the feelings sparked by love or awe bring us to the threshold of another kind of union, less tangible but powerfully moving. Being in beauty calls us to experience the connection we have to life in all its forms. Less object oriented and individualistic and more part of the greater whole. In a world that seems more fragmented and conflicted every day, wholeness seems out of reach. This has not always been so. This Navajo prayer reflects life rooted in wholeness and in beauty, a more sustainable approach:
Walking In Beauty (Blessing)
Today I will walk out, today everything unnecessary will leave me,
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever,
nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful.
How healing would this life in beauty be? I will follow the beautiful words of this blessing for a month and let my words tell the tale. May your words and your walk be beautiful as well.
The B3 Summit at Antone’s this Saturday reminded me of why I love this city. Where else will four internationally renowned jazz, rock, soul and funk influenced organists share a bill designed for music nerds and musicians? I predict we will not see the likes of a groove this deep for some time.
The Hammond B3 is part of the soundtrack of our lives, from its heyday in the 50’s and 60’s in jazz or rock. From Ray Manzarek of the Doors to the incomparable Jimmy Smith, it’s the “take me out to the ballgame” sound of classic Americana.
Ike Stubblefield has played with Motown legends like the Four Tops, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves, Stevie Wonder and Rare Earth. His soulful R&B style helped forge the sound of Al Green, Ike & Tina Turner, Curtis Mayfield, B.B. King, The Pointer Sisters and George Benson and more recently, Cee Lo Green. Ike’s band is the first featured in the video highlights below.
Luckily, three of these four B3 masters live in Austin. Red Young has played with musicians ranging in style from: Eric Burdon, Linda Ronstadt, Dan Hicks, Joan Armatrading and George Clinton to Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker with time in between on the Sonny and Cher show. More entrepreneurial than most, he has owned nightclubs and performs throughout the world in many different formats – both piano, organ, on vocals, conducting, producing and arranging his own and others’ compositions. See upcoming gigs for the many flavors of Red. Brannen Temple, the drummer featured in the video has worked with Eric Burdon, Lizz Wright, The Dixie Chicks, Sheena Easton, Chaka Kahn and too many Austin acts to name. Look for him at the One 2 One, Elephant Room and Antone’s with Red Young and many others. Mike Malone, the saxophonist featured in the video, plays with NuJazzSwing and often with Brannen Temple and other jazz musicians in town.
Dr. James Polk & Centerpeace may keep a more relaxed pace than his counterparts, but he is no lightweight on the national music scene. Polk is best-known for his work with Ray Charles, touring as an organist, pianist, writer, arranger and conductor from 1978 to 1985. He’s Texas born and bred, with roots in Deep Elum, along with Ornette Coleman. He moved to Austin in the 1970’s, forming James Polk and the Brothers, featuring Angela Strehli, with WC Clark on bass and John X Reed on guitar. These days, his main focus is on the Dr. James Polk Academy of Arts and Technology and helping to hold down the jazz scene in Austin.
I continue to be a fan of San Antonio’s art museums. The Witte has been on Broadway since 1926; I remember going there on field trips as a child and every few decades since. After hearing about the new Mays Family Center exhibit Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed I decided to see how much it had changed. I was impressed.
Many of the stations were interactive, fun for all ages. And in the fine tradition of Curly, the maitre d butler at Earl Able’s restaurant, the Witte has a robot who greets you with “Como etas.”
Entering the world of the Maya means opening your imagination to a remarkable culture that knew as much about the stars as it did the Earth and built pyramids and cities in the jungles of Mexico and Central America. Like Atlantis, it vanished mysteriously, leaving behind monumental cities, sign and numeric alphabets with sound and picture hieroglyphics and an ongoing farming tradition featuring corn, squash and beans called the three sisters. Mathematically and astronomically, they established epochal calendars without a telescope, based on centuries of recorded observations. The model city and pyramid below are from the city of Caracol, thought to have had a population of around 150,000.
There were hundreds of villages and cities, trading, warring and forming alliances, with a peak population of more than 2 million. Rulers were Gods, they gave their blood to ensure continuing prosperity while priests observed and recorded the movements of Venus, the moon, sun and stars using a 13 month calendar crafted over hundreds of years. Caves and other sacred portals to the underworld conveyed the God of Maize from death to rebirth in an ongoing cycle of resurrection, a theme common to cultures the world over.
Mayan folk paid taxes in woven textiles, an artisanal tradition alive and well today. They mined jade, used for making beautiful jewelry and as adornments embedded in teeth by dentists, whose practices flourished alongside other healers and surgeons. Advanced mathematical, architectural and astronomical insights are preserved in the few remaining codices, rescued from destruction by conquistadores and Catholic priests, who considered them the devil’s handiwork. Like the Library of Alexandria, the loss is incalculable.
Some credit the Maya with inventing the game of basketball. While there are some similarities, the stakes were much higher for the warriors at their ball courts. The ball was made of rubber, drained from trees and layered until it was an 8-10 pound missile. The players strapped on 20 pound stone waist guards and used their amazing core strength to keep the ball in play. Losers were often sacrificed and winners were richly rewarded with the losers’ wealth. The game changed over centuries of play, with some suggestion that it served as a ritual substitute for warfare. Hero Twin myths point to the origin of the game as a transitional space between the underworld and the land above. The court was a place to work out the disputes and manage competition that allowed for alliances and trade to flourish.
I highly recommend this great end of summer day trip for the whole family. It will be interesting to see how the Witte integrates the programs at the Mays Center into exhibits that have kept Texans informed and entertained for almost a century.