ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
He liked my book Coming Up Down Home so much that after we meet, and talked
for an afternoon comparing our different childhoodmine southern poor dirt
farming, he upper-class French bourgeoisiehe came to North Carolina
to visit my people. Aunt Amanda, whom he had read about in my book,
Books by Cecil Brown
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Goodbye White Friends!
White People Aren’t Into Black People Anymore
By Cecil Brown
“I called Clint, my friend said, as he fumbled through his address book while we sipping a beer in a cafe in San Francisco. Clint?
Yeah, you called Clint? Clint who? I give him another look. You mean, Clint as in Clint Eastwood?
You know Clint Eastwood?
Yeah, my friend said, We’re friends. I called him but he hasnt called me back.
Well, maybe, I think out aloud, Hes busy with his new movie and some other Black person, like Morgan Freeman.
My friend is undaunted. Its strange, he goes on, I called Francis too, and he hasnt called me back.
Francis? As in Coppola?
Yeah. I dont know whats going on.
Before I could get really annoyed with my friend for dropping the names of famous white people, I had to check myself, because my friend really isor wasfriends with these famous people. Hes not just name-dropping. Since the seventies, he knew these famous people though his music. He plays music, and white people, famous or not, like black musicand friendships bloomand, as the elegy in a churchyard goes, it fades.
But what my friend is going through is being experienced by a lot of black people. White people, who for reasons various and sundry, used to be more friendly to blacks than they are in this information millennium.
Doesnt it seem strange, even stupid, to expect Clint Eastwood to call you back. I personally would not have him in my address book. Not being that into his films to begin withnot since the movie about Charlie Parkers lifeI could not understand his disappointment. Why would he want to be friends with Clint Eastwood anyway? Clint, he insisted, could really play the piano.
I yawned. Give me a break. I interviewed Clint on the set of “Bird,” but to get the interview I had to wear a Hassid wig and get in line with the extras.
But my friend is different. It just reminded me of the painful realitymany black people have famous white friends who dont call them back any more.
I, too, cannot exclude myself in all this. I, too, have a stack of white people I call my friends. But when I call them, they dont call back any longer.
My friend really isor wasfriends with these famous people.
For years I have enjoyed the friendship of many famous white people; but to be honest, I have noticed that the phone is not exactly ringing off the hook.
Would you believe it, there was a time when Id call Warren and hed call me back? To be sure, that was many years ago, but that is my point. Back when we hung out in
Berkeley, Richard Pryor and I use to meet up with Warren Beatty.
It all happened because I had sold my book to David Foster, who brought me with him to Vancouver to be on the set with Director Bob Altman and Warren and Julie Christie. As I stood in line watching the actors, during one of the takes, Warren walked over to me and said hello. We were on the set of his movie McCabe and Mrs. Miller in Vancouver. Warren walked over to me, the only black person on the set, and said that he heard that I knew Richard Pryor. I said I did. Wow! He would like to meet Richard. When I got back to Berkeley, I told Richard to get his stuff together, we were going to meet Warren, who was the hottest white man alive in those days.
The three of us had dinner and took in some porn films. By the time, I got to Hollywood, Warren and Richard were steadfast friends and had done tons of nasty stuff that Richard would only hint to me about. Not too long ago, I mentioned to my old friend David Foster that Id like to see old Warren again. David said, No problem, Ill call him. That was a year ago! No love from Warren. No love from David.
Bob Altman, who directed some of the greatest films, was a great friend. We met on the set of his classic film, and I liked his rugged middle American style right away. He didnt start directing films until his forties, and he had a joking side to him that I related to. When we met in New York, I remember one scene where I was the light of the whole party. Altman was celebrating his newest movie and I was telling stories about growing up in North Carolina to a roomful of people in his hotel.
Years passed and I saw that he was being celebrated at the San Francisco Film festival. I called David Foster and wondered if Altman would remember me. He was eighty-four then. When I reached through the crowed and pulled his coat, he turned and smiled. I told him that David didnt think hed remember me. You know, Davids problem is that he cant remember who he is!
So Altman has a good reason for not getting in touch with me now, hes dead. So is my other great white friend, French Film maker Louis Malle. He liked my book Coming Up Down Home so much that after we meet, and talked for an afternoon comparing our different childhoodmine southern poor dirt farming, he upper-class French bourgeoisiehe came to North Carolina to visit my people. Aunt Amanda, whom he had read about in my book, and whom he met in real life, always asked me about him. Little Louie! He was a nice man! That was real love. But what about the rest of that sorry lot? Those whites who wanted to be so hip that they just had to have a black friend!
Many black people have famous white friends who dont call them back any more.
Oh, and what about my old pal Sean Connery. We met on the set of Rising Sun, where I play Big Boy, opposite him. We got along so well because we both enjoyed his national poet Robert Burns. When he was talking about the movie on the Tonight show, he even mentioned me.
And he told about some directors, Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, brothers, who were pestering Johnny Depp about his lack of knowledge of black literature, asking him had he read, Iceberg Slim. Depp replied, Have you read Cecil Browns Life and Loves of Mr. Jiveass Nigger? That would set these black lite Negroes straight! But youd think that if he was that into my novel, hed drop a line. Nothing, from that old hipster Johnny Depp!
Its not just Americans who used to be into black people. When I lived in Berlin when there was a wall around the city, I was popular and friends with the leading German writers, including Heiner Muller, Volker Schlöndorff (director), Wim Wenders (director), and some that American dont even know. No love from Berlin these days, either.
I was in Copenhagen about fifteen years ago, and one night I got into a conversation with this Danish producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen. He said that the best films would have a small story, without any lights and no artificial music. Some years later, this concept came to be called Dogma. In 2005, I was back in Copenhagen, and I had my modem attached to my laptop, so I would make calls in Copenhagen. Just on a lark, I sent an email to Peter. In my email, I sent over the stuff we talked about that night, because frankly, I never really forgot it. And after I saw their film Celebration, I realized that this dude was serious.
After I sent the email, Id forgotten about it and was having another beer, when my email went off. I was surprised when the email came back from his secretary. Yes Peter remembers everything. Come, let us catch up on lost time. Before you could say, Hans Christian Anderson, I was invited to the film town where he lived outside of Copenhagen. Peter showed up at eleven oclock. Then as we are talking, here is Lars Von Tier was standing there. Lars just happens to be the coolest mother-humper in the world. We had several meetings talking about race and films. He showed me his Mandelay. These Danish dudes treated me like I was one of them, with full honors and respect and laughter.
When I came back to the states, I wrote a screenplay and sent it to Denmark. No love from Denmark, not even a farvel.
Real Black people are not inwhite guys writing about blacks are really in.
And where is Michael Moore? He told me he liked my book and wrote an endorsement in his own handwriting. I called him, but he hasnt returned my call. All I get from him is emails about President Obama. Just like Obama needs another white friend! What about me? Dont I need one?
The new black writers are not black, but white women. The novel thats selling like hot cakes is a book by a white woman called Helpers.
When I sent my agent my book on my friend Richard Pryor, she wrote back that nobodys interested in Mr. Prior.(Her spelling and her ignorance.) When she meant that if there is a book by a white guy who never met Richard that would be a book shes interested in.
I tell my friend how Bill Cosby once told me that the sixties were back again. We were on the set of his movie in Berkeley. He was trying to make fun of the fading situation. But Cosby may be right. When the sixties do come around again, the white people will show up. But this time, we will realize that they are just there for the excitement?
One of my favorite writers used to be William Hazlitt. He once made a list of all of his friends who disappointed him. He said that he wanted them to know that he wasnt into them anymore, either. Thats how I see it too. If you notice that white people dont call you back, great! There is a whole world of white people waiting to be your next best friend.
I still get return messages from some white friends, though it really doesnt bother me. I know what the literary agencies are up to, and I know that white authors and playwrights and script writers write all the black material. The public is not very discerning these days. Real Black people are not inwhite guys writing about blacks are really in.
I was at home that night when my phone just rang.
Melvin as in Melvin van Peebles?
Yeah-bro. Whats up? Man, I was in Paris for the last four months and I saw you called me. Im just returning your call, bro.
Returning my call? See, thats what Im talking about! An old-school friend.
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By Cecil Brown
Baad Dude Wins Again, June 20, 2003Anyone with even a slight acquaintance with the blues knows that Stagolee killed Billy Lyons over a brand-new Stetson hat. Stagolee thus became the prototypic baaad dude, the player who would coolly kill a man over fancy headgear. Until now, however, no one knew the real story, and most of us blues fans wondered if either of the gentlemen existed. In truth, “Stack” Lee Shelton shot Billy Lyons in a barroom in the red-light district of St. Louis on Christmas Day, 1895. The ballad, now known in hundreds of versions, must have emerged soon afterward.
Cecil Brown has researched the full story–he even provides pictures of the death certificates. He situates the event in its full and rowdy context: the roaring, wide-open world of Mississippi River towns in the late 19th century, when liquor, prostitution, gambling, and violence were the order of the day. He goes on to trace the song through its long and chequered history; central to the blues, it has been enthusiastically adopted by hillbilly and folk singers, rockers, and many more.
Good studies of folklore have been rare lately. The glorious days of the 1960s folk revival are long over. It is thus doubly rewarding to see a really fine study of folk tradition. This book focuses on the literature side; it does not deal with the music (someone should write a companion volume). Brown does an excellent job of interpretation, bringing in just enough theory, not too much. His generalizations are useful and interesting. (I don’t agree with “Publisher’s Weekly”‘s sour comments at the end of their note.) The world needs more books like this. I not only got stuck in it and read it in one sitting–I then sought out my worn old record of Long Cleve Reed and Papa Harvey Hull’s superb performance from the 1920’s, and played it three times over. Right on, Cecil Brown.E. N. Anderson
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By Cecil Brown
It’s the birth year of Ragtime music, 1895, and Lee “Stagolee” Shelton, a St. Louis pimp, murders Billy Lyons, a political gang member. Afterwards, Stagolee makes a deal with Judge Murphy to bring order to the underworld. As a member of a group of pimps called the “Stags,” Stagolee makes alliances with the Democratic Party and votes for a Democratic Mayor. Later, the Stag Party, along with the Democratic Party, elects St. Louis’s first black policeman. It is this policeman who is sent to arrest Stagolee for the murder of Billy Lyons. .
Now, nearly 50 years after singer Lloyd Price introduced mainstream audiences to the “Stagger Lee” story, Cecil Brown portrays the events that gave rise to this mainstay of African-American popular culture. This follows the successful Stagolee Shot Billy, Brown’s nonfiction account of the same story
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By Cecil Brown
Thus Africans and Caribbean Negroes were in many cases less radical, even though much of the African American radical tradition comes from immigrants, such as Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, Kwame Toure, Malcolm X and Farrakhan. As Amina Baraka informed me, “We’re all West Indians.” And this is true because kidnapped Africans were brought to the Caribbean for “the breaking in,” then transferred to North America and elsewhere. And we must ask ourselves would we rather have a radical immigrant African in black studies or a reactionary Negro only because he is a Negro.
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 8 May 2010