An opera singer and artistic director sees the Black male genius as a window to America’s dark side.
“We are Children of the Lie…voluntary slaves of the Pan’s foundational mental illness—white supremacy—generating all the others.”
Eight was the average age for choirboys to be castrated in the 17th century, though officially it was against canon and civil law. Pope Clement VIII admitted castrati into the papal choir in 1599, quoting as justification St Paul's directive: “Let women be silent in the churches.” Presumably St Paul would have been satisfied with boys, but Clement VIII had been captivated by the castrati's “angel voices.” The Vatican was complicit in recruiting singers not just for the church but, after Pope Innocent XI banned women from appearing on stage in 1686, for opera houses. Last year human rights groups and historians called for a papal apology, but according to Powell, “He was too busy apologising to other people.” Tomasini suspects that “many documents have been destroyed.”
“All mouth and no trousers,” Samantha Ellis, The Guardian
Murray, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served two years in prison for administering an overdose of propofol to the late King of Pop in June 2009, called 89-year-old Joe [Jackson] “one of the worst fathers to his children in history” in a video obtained by The Blast.… “The cruelty expressed by Michael that he experienced at the hand of his father…” Murray, 65, alleged, trailing off before adding, “The fact that he was chemically castrated to maintain his high-pitched voice is beyond words.”
“Michael Jackson was chemically castrated…Report,” Karen Mizoguchi, People
Jekyll resolved to cease becoming Hyde. One night, he had a moment of weakness and drank the serum. Hyde, furious at having been caged for so long, killed Carew. Horrified, Jekyll tried more adamantly to stop the transformations. Then, in early January, he transformed involuntarily while awake….Eventually, one of the chemicals used in the serum ran low, and subsequent batches prepared from new stocks failed to work. Jekyll speculated that one of the original ingredients must have some unknown impurity that made it work. Realizing that he would stay transformed as Hyde, Jekyll decided to write his “confession.” He ended the letter by writing, “I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end.”
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Wikipedia.com
WYNTON (“JEKYLL”) MARSALIS
I was a twenty-two year old singer in the early 90s when I first met the not yet thirty year old Wynton Marsalis while we were both involved in a recording with jazz legends I won't even name because, to this day, it sounds like hyperbole when I say it to myself. (The biggest joke in the studio of that day was that I, a kid who was younger than the drummer's favorite brushes, was on this gig.) Wynton, in his singularly earnest and poetic way, made a comment after we talked for a hot minute; about how the path ahead of me, if they all thought about it, was not one to envy! Fine wine comesfrom young grapes; usually after a good stomping and plenty of time.
I was as nervous meeting Wynton, however, as I was the legends we were involved with. In the 80s, when I was in high school, he and his brother Branford were making my father and grandfather's music popular again. With his albums Hothouse Flowersand In a J Mood, Wynton, student of Art Blakey, took the essence of mid 60s Miles Davis & Herbie Hancock and turned them into secret ingredients; ones that, combined with classic Ellington and timeless Louis, created an aroma after baking that permeated the soul of America. That chef’s blend seasonedwith his own post-Freddie Hubbard genius produced a new hunger for Black magnificence in jazz that made my teenage heart nearly burst. When my anxiety-ridden mother (who probably knew one too many strung out, heroin addict jazz musicians in 1960s Harlem) stood in the way of me getting piano lessons in my childhood, I decided, before graduating LaGuardia High School of the Arts at Lincoln Center, that I would be the singer version of Wynton when I grew up: a master of both classical music and jazz. My pursuit of classical training as a singer, which led to a love of opera (Benjamin Matthews & Wayne Sanders of Opera Ebony notwithstanding) grew from his influence on my life. To meet this young phenom years later was an honor. To work with him, in the studio, while in the service of legends, was a dream.
Which is what has always made Wynton's Martha’s Vineyard-like excursions into Respectability Politics so heartbreaking for me from the very beginning. He made another such excursion in the winter of early 2018; one that, given the changing times, opened the doors of American cultural perception in ways he probably hadn’t considered and couldn’t control. Marsalis’ musical/intellectual gumbo was always enough to feed the world, I thought; he never needed to follow it up with Bill Cosby's "pound cake" for dessert. Yet something in him demands to assert itself every so often in just such a way. In fact, it was never until I was force-fed a disdaining view of my own poverty-stricken neighborhood in the Bronx (where Hip-Hop, lest ye forget, was born) from this oh so middle-class New Orleans boy now living in midtown Manhattan that I, in my twenties, began to wonder: maybe Jon Faddis or Terence Blanchard are the true Black Gabriels of our age, and Wynton is just the jazz musician for white people who don't like Black people. (Or jazz, for that matter.) It hurt. It didn’t hurt the way discovering how Hollywood’s Weinstein reallyfelt about women did; Wynton to my knowledge has never even considered doing that kind of damage to anyone. And it doesn't hurt any more than the vestigial remnants of pain from seeing the blemishes on any hero's face when you were a kid does, as I tend to reflect upon reflexively in middle age. But hurt, just a little, it does.
“I began to wonder: maybe Wynton is just the jazz musician for white people who don't like Black people.”
It hurt because no one like the Dr. Hyde occasionally sneaking out from behind Wynton's horn can, if only for a moment, turn this transcendental artist that is one of our icons into a man obsessed with what I call Shroedinger's Muse. When he speaks so bitterly about Hip-Hop, he never seems to be aware of the lethal contradiction he implies: Jazz is strong enough to defeat the 13th Amendment; strong enough to defeat the Prison Industrial Complex; strong enough to defeat the toxic nightmare of racist violence and deceit that is the Drug War; strong enough to defeat redlining; strong enough to defeat the Big Oil, Big Pharma and Military Industrial complexes' stranglehold on the American economy; strong enough to defeat institutionalized inequality; strong enough to defeat rape culture, and murdering police; strong enough to defeat a GOP that has simultaneously overtaken the country and lost its mind…strong enough—indeed, so “strong enough” as to defeat all of these things andthe history of slavery & Jim Crow upon which they derive their strength (such that they need never be mentioned)—and yet, simultaneously, too weak to survive the supposedly destructive influence of young Black men setting rhymes to sampled music, and using inappropriate language while doing so. Like Shroedinger's Immigrant, who simultaneously sits around collecting welfare checks and steals hard working white men's jobs, Shroedinger's Muse is the young Black boy from the ghetto (i.e., my ghetto) whose voice is too weak and unworthy of earning a place in heaven but still strong enough to kill the Respectable Black man's God.
Shroedinger’s Muse is what leads Jekyll/Wynton to channel J. Edgar Hoover and Eliott Ness, instead of Clifford and Freddie and Miles at his best. Shroedinger’s Muse is the narcotics trafficker that the jazz G-men must hunt and arrest in the mind of Jeckyll/Wynton; confiscating the addictive product, Hip-Hop, before it further destroys the moral fabric of middle class America. Filth; flarn flarn, filth. His seasonal realization—that such a muse for his Blackculture police-impulse (if it actually existed) would have as many contradictions as the capitalist system upon which his bourgeoisie fan base is reliant—reveals that he is intuitively aware of swallowing a propaganda potion as dangerous as any he is lambasting before the insults come roaring past his lips. A potion which makes him turn Hyde-like himself.
That sound you heard in the Spring of 2018, sometime after you first read Wynton declaring rap music as more destructive to the Black community than Confederate monuments, might have been the layered echo of my heart breaking. The sound of my heart breaking is like a soundtrack of movie music in my mind; a movie with a scene of cultural sophisticates welcoming the Pulitzer Prize-winning artists Wynton Marsalis and Kendrick Lamar to the same black-tie party, but awkwardly suppressing their excitement because of the bitter and confusing disdain one would presumably have for the other. The sound of my heart breaking is the sound of Black people turning Pandora to R. Kelly (even now)after reading a headline regarding Wynton's latest cultural Turette's syndrome outburst against rap; justifying it by saying some version of "this is why I don't like jazz." Stefan Steinberg, riffing on Trotsky, once wrote, “In the course of history, it is an often unexpected event which exposes the real nature of social relations.” Wynton dissing rappers stopped being unexpected in the 80s, when I was in high school. As a Black man who has lived on both sides of the fault lines of Black America’s class-antagonisms, however, what his insults expose is more real—and more heartbreaking—each time he utters them.
The sound of my heart breaking is a jazz quintet of its own, playing a standard that haunts me as I age: the song of me involuntarily questioning the artistic relevance of a middle-aged man who seems to be so embarrassed by some of his family members that he momentarily becomes an apologist for his enemies.
And [Michael Jackson] had always been dying—dying to be white. That was what my mother said, that you could see the dying all over his face, the decaying, the thinning, that he was disappearing into something white, desiccating into something white, erasing himself, so that we would forget that he had once been Africa beautiful and Africa brown, and we would forget his pharaoh’s nose, forget his vast eyes, his dazzling smile, and Michael Jackson was but the extreme of what felt in those post-disco years to be a trend…God was destroyed, and we could not stop him, though we did love him, we could not stop him, because who can really stop a black god dying to be white?
…And [Kanye] is a god, though one born of a different time and a different need. Jackson rose in the last days of enigma and wonder; West, in an accessible age, when every fuck is a tweet and every defecation a status update. And perhaps, in that way, West has done something more remarkable, more amazing than Jackson, because he is a man of no mystery, overexposed, who holds the world’s attention through simply the consistent, amazing, near-peerless quality of his work.
“I’m not Black, I’m Kanye,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic
KANYE (“HYDE”) WEST
The criticism of Wynton had barely cooled in the Summer of 2018 when I had one of the many heated conversations with people shockingly desperate to remove any and all artistic accomplishments of Kanye West from either the public memory or cultural appreciation. That was no coincidence. Purposefully ignoring the Birth of a Nation bait regarding Taylor Swift (given lynching Kanye had become a new American rite of passage well before then), I decided all criticism of him was a product of racialized envy. Kanye was the Hyde to Wynton’s Jekyll, but more was going on in the American psyche than the class issues of Marsalis. And then Kanye’s Trumposity reared its ugly head and muddied the waters.
As some of the Black community’s intellectuals began pointing out, however, the waters became more clear, just more banal: mental illness simply added another symptom to the greater disease of white supremacy infecting us all. Racial self-hatred, the 21st century incarnation of which is noticed instantly as part of a continuum that matured well before the 20th century began, became the standard explanation for much of Kanye’s ahistorical outbursts. But this, like Wynton’s Hip-hop/Confederacy “whataboutism,” was paradoxically another Trojan horse for the African-American psyche. Just as there are ways to discuss race that preserve and defend privilege among whites —the very institution people should be dismantling—discussing racialself-hatred among the pretty, rich and/or famous in only the most convenient of contexts closes Black eyes with every umbrella of moral judgment it opens. In other words, judging Black celebrities according to a presumed racial self-hatred invites Black folk to scapegoat them the same way racist whites do—which, in letting us be secretly white in our minds for just a moment, is self-hatred in action. (Like arrogance and hubris, those who believe they are immune to self-hatred are usually the most contagious.) Many Black Christians, in fact, never looked so fake as when they “forgave” Kanye for being something they had yet to prove he actually was; his tattered image being far too useful re virtue signaling for them to reevaluate it. And then the official diagnosis of his mental illness went public, complicating everything yet again by making (as I originally thought) the envy-driven hypocrisy behind the judgment theatrics of both the sacred andthe profane (in spite of both science and empathy) ecumenically obvious.
Hypocrisy is addictive. Like cocaine during the Reagan era,the Kanye envy party was inevitably going to bite us all in the ass, as we should have known. But with GOP mendacity further destabilizing the world it became too consoling to give up, even when an awareness of his bipolar disorder should have made everyone more compassionate. More than personal virtue, our tribal virtue (of whatever tribe you ascribed to), whether it be inchoate, contradictory, or wholly imagined, was effectively signaled into unfalsifiable reality by our condemnation of the cultural anti-Joan of Arcthat Kanye became in the Summer of 2018. Faster than the season could even turn, however, Kanye envy metastasized from the dubious expression of morality, to tribal identity, to something else as fraudulent as it is quintessentially American: the affirmation of our singularly beautiful innocence. Just as upper-class cocaine led to poor man’s crack, the democratization and degradation of Wynton’s propaganda potion (smoked with the innocence-pipe of the mainstream media) led, through a Boomer-to-Millenial generational backlash, to a reactionary mass defending of Kanye’s (and everyone else’s) right to exist as little more than an obnoxious person. Extolling the professional troll became all the rage; completely upstaging (as Wynton, ironically, had long since gotten used to) musical analysis, artistic appreciation, or cultural context in the very community that birthed him. Even those who continued to love the music he produced, and Hip-Hop as a whole, began forgetting what actually made Kanye special as an artist. And thatwas where the door to existential tragedy opened: the door everyone expects to be opened by a butler or hero but is usually done by an angry clown laughing at us, given we stupidly rang the bell while not knowing what or who is on the other side.
Summer, when school is out and the fun begins can release our inhibitions, but pride goeth before the Fall.
R. KELLY AND THE ANGRY CLOWN
R. Kelly produced Aaliyah’s first album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number in 1994 when she was just 14. The title proved apt. Rumors spread that the duo were married. Both vehemently denied that they were anything more than friends. In the mid-1990s, when the Internet was in its infancy, it was far easier for celebrities to keep secrets. However, in January 1995 the magazine Vibe published a copy of their marriage certificate. Aaliyah who was 15 at the time of the wedding, listed her age as 18. R. Kelly accurately listed his age as 25. Since she was too young to get married without her parents’ permission, the marriage was illegal and was annulled. Aaliyah never spoke publicly about her marriage, but after the news broke, she severed all personal and professional ties with R. Kelly.
“7 Facts Abut Aliyah,” Sara Bibel, Biography
"I still love R. Kelly's music; I don't hate him," she added. "He reminds me of a boyfriend who hurt you that you still love. He hurt me by not helping me out and telling me to drop out of school. He told me and Tiffany both, ‘If you want to be serious about the music, you have to be at the studio and not at school, because school isn't going to make you a millionaire.' At 16, that's like a dream to us to work with R. Kelly, so we listened to him. ... I think it's a sickness."
“Kelly accused of sex with teenage girls,” Jim DeRogatis & Abdon Pallasch, Chicago Sun Times
Here’s the most sinister. This deeply troubles me: There’s a very — I don’t know what the percentage is — some percentage of fans are liking Kelly’s music because they know. And that’s really troublesome to me. There is some sort of — and this is tied up to complicated questions of racism and sexism — there is some sort of vicarious thrill to seeing this guy play this character in these songs and knowing that it’s not just a character.
“Read the ‘Stomach Churning’ Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full,” Jessica Hopper, Village Voice
Variety magazine reported R. Kelly’s musical response to sexual misconduct allegations in the Summer of 2018. The earthquake would hit hard months later, when the kids were back in school and Black America’s innocence-leaves began to fall. Much like with Cosby, however, the Shakespearean nature of our culture practically dictates that the truth only be considered when spoken by clowns; and even then at a glacial pace. The joke, nonetheless, is on us. The greater truths of our culture, as the prophetic clowns always make clear, are only better revealed by the lies of the liars within it. The seeds of R. Kelly’s 2019 DARVO TV momentwere planted in the Summer of 2018: the poisoned musical seeds from the fruit of a poisoned tree, planted within an orchard of indecency going back decades. And like department store Santas, the professional comedians of our time tell the story of a more powerful angry clown they keep warning us about; one that keeps changing outfits and shtick, but continues to terrorize the American soul.
That angry clown in America is the servant of “he who shall not be named”: the patron saint of white supremacy. He is caretaker of the house bearing this global pandemic masquerading as an ideology; one with symptoms—like capitalism, rape culture and pedophilia—that are epidemics among themselves. The house, which so often feels like a prison, however, is ours: this world, which makes no sense. (We could just call the Angry Clown’s master the devil, but Biblical allegory can only serve to lull us to sleep with an illusion of controllable simplicity without modern context. Adolescent morality, while useful, doesn’t explain barbarity any better than it explains gravity.) Beyond good and evil, like Nietzsche told us a while back, is something that disturbs us more than either of them: this cannibalistic modality that is white supremacy, from which I assert virtually all that we call evil and mental illness in the modern world springs. It is that, more than anything, which defines Western Civilization without our consent.
Much like comparisons of R. Kelly to Elvis re pedophilia, the comparisons of Kanye West to Frank Sinatra begin to reveal that mental illnesses like bipolar disorder do not discriminate amongst races, classes, genders or sexual orientations in America; especially within the subculture of brilliant artists. The origins of both pedophilia and mental illness as we know them today being in white supremacy’s restructuring of the world’s resources and relationships, however (via war, Christianity and capitalism), is irrefutable. The developmentally arrested male, in fact, upon which inordinate power is routinely bestowed in our culture, reveals the patriarchy as another secondary illness of its own. This fact may be nowhere more exemplary than our comfort with the abuse and exploitation of children, despite the many forms of mental illness attributed to childhood sexual trauma experienced within patriarchal families and organizations. As America didn’t invent the patriarchy, in fact, contemplating its malevolence exposes a paradox: the violent nature of America (and Europe)’s Hyde-like export that is white supremacy (via just the delivery system of patriarchy), adversely affecting the entire world, puts paid to the Jekyll-like “exceptionalism” upon which we base our modern psychology, and reveals another. Neither democracy nor industry makes the United States exceptional; sustained violence does. The evidence is clear: Jefferson, Melville, Henry Ford, Copland, Louis Armstrong and Steve Jobs cannot define America the way Sally Hemmings, Hariett Tubman, Rockerfeller, P.T. Barnum, Henry Ford, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and the KKK can. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, et. al. are not tools of freedom today (for most of us); they are consumerist distractions that poorly protect us from such contemplation. Quiet meditation on the suffering of violated children reveals the engine of American culture. Wynton’s primal fear becomes clear, in stolen moments of crystal silence, and cannot be hidden by his animus against R&B or Hip-hop: that American culture has no Jekyll. He fears America is nothing but Hyde’s. One look at just the last twenty years of Black America turning a blind eye to the alleged predations of Robert Kelly–only for them to become impossible to ignore in the Donald Trump era—makes one wonder: what is to stop anyone from saying he would be right?
MICHAEL JACKSON ANDTHE HOUSE OF PETER PAN
“Peter Pan is a fictional character created by Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie. A free-spirited and mischievous young boy who can fly and never grows up, Peter Pan spends his never-ending childhood having adventures on the mythical island of Neverland as the leader of the Lost Boys, interacting with fairies, pirates, mermaids, Native Americans, and occasionally ordinary children from the world outside Neverland…Peter Pan has become a cultural icon symbolizing youthful innocence and escapism….Peter is an exaggerated stereotype of a boastful and careless boy. He claims greatness, even when such claims are questionable (such as congratulating himself when Wendy re-attaches his shadow). In the play and book, Peter symbolises the selfishness of childhood, and is portrayed as being forgetful and self-centered. “
“Peter Pan,” Wikipedia
“The second, and even more powerful, way of sidestepping the topic was by appealing to Jackson’s own history—and, by extension, ours… In her short and terrific book On Michael Jackson, Margo Jefferson connects Jackson’s child stardom to the 19th-century institutions of the minstrel show and the Barnumesque ‘freak’ show, a late-20th-century vestige of the violently racist and exploitative roots of the American entertainment industry itself. These are legacies that many Americans have taken great pains to avoid reckoning with, but Jackson made their scars feel unusually present, even if only subconsciously. And of course there was the real physical and emotional abuse that Jackson and his siblings allegedly suffered as children at the hands of their father, details of which first became public in the 1980s.”
“There’s no severing Michael Jackson’s art from his obsession with children,” Jack Hamilton, Slate
“Trump’s conduct is that while it’s unmannerly, it’s not rude in that classic hard-nosed, stick-it-to-’em, I-got-no-time-for-niceties way. His aren’t power moves that command respect. Rather, they’re puffy and decadent—the qualities associated with the kind of bratty, spoiled boy we met when the term affluenza was first used as a legal defense on the grounds that someone so ruined by financial privilege can’t understand ethics or consequences…Though Trump’s petty malice puts him in (roughly) seventh grade, it has a doddering petulance, too. He is, in effect, an old boy. And when you step back and think about it, you realize America is full of them.
“The Year of the Old Boys,” Lili Loofbourow, Slate
The Fall—and fall—of R. Kelly in 2018 in retrospect led logically to the winter of our discontent with the King of Pop in early 2019. The King is dead (long live the King), but do we know who he really was? Do we even want to? Do we care what mixed messages Michael got when he was lauded for singing adult-themed love songs as a child? Do we care what the beatings from his mother and father did to his psyche before fame made him nearly impervious to psychoanalysis? Did we run out of empathy upon realizing what vitiligo and the second-degree burns he suffered from the tragic Pepsi commercial accident did to his self-esteem, given his image mattered to us as much or more than his music? Are multi-millionaire celebrity icons even “allowed” to have depression or PTSD, over anything? Considering how much America loves to cannibalize its celebrities—and none of the last century-plus were bigger than MJ—the January 2019 release of the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, while striking me colder than the wind on the eve of a Chicago Christmas, raised more questions than answers.
I am torn. Americans in general (admittedly or not) are torn; as torn and divided on whether they should ever “forgive” Kanye’s outbursts and Trump support because of his bipolar disorder diagnosis as they are re forgiving him too quickly; torn and divided over whether they should pay any attention at all to Wynton’s class issues, dividing and (further) conquering the Black community while castrating his artistry; torn and divided over considering the alleged true persona of R. Kelly or the alleged alter-ego of Michael Jackson, and how they infect their music. The reason, however, is as obvious as our inequity: the mirror to the culture that “Man in the Mirror” Michael became above them all is a lot easier to see than the soul behind it. He more than the others is a mirror that shows, from the reflection in our eyes, a more powerful prince of a more malevolent darkness standing behind him, and in front of us.
If we stop talking about Michael in ad hominem fashion, we‘ll have to seriously look beyond the door the Angry Clown opened when we rang the bell.
He who shall not be named must be named. The Angry Clown at the door, haunting the dreams of both Jekyll and Hyde, is the manservant of the House of Peter Pan. And make no mistake, Peter Pan has become a sociopathic tyrant in the fallen kingdom that is the dying American empire. Once the Pan was an icon standing for the joyous reclamation of our wounded inner child. Now he is Louis XVI: an aging but immature, all powerful psychotic, too terrified by mortality & insignificance to even wonder what empathy is. Among his poorly raised and chronically abused sons are King Leopold and Henry Ford: those who established a tribal world culture in their images soaked in an evil that is all their own. Their forefathers’ culture, which arguably once celebrated a fascinating take on life, only celebrates death now. And the realization of this today stares us in the eye: when the Angry Clown opens the door to Peter Pan’s new Neverland (which some would call Never(again)land),he is opening the door to the prison that is our world. That’s a paradigm shift that would drive anyone crazy.
The scapegoating of celebrity artists like Kanye, and the reassessment of artists from Caravaggio to Bach to Edgar Degas to Harvey Weinstein to Michael Jackson are quickly revealed to be the choreography of cultural denial as much as anything else; denial of society’s mirrors and windows via the judgment of individuals. Philosophers (and Marxists) laugh bitterly at how America’s worship of individualism has become a corporate tool for destroying individuality. Our artists tell the story of how ethics, morality and common sense are going down that same rabbit hole. We will condone acres of hypocrisy and accept multitudes of pain before confronting our collusion with that reality alone. We are trained to celebrate entertainment, not art, in fact, because only entertainment provides a momentary escape from such wisdom; it never, like art, facilitates unwanted psychological confrontation with it. Artists are prophets, and like all indigenous messengers of inconvenient truth, we are trained to burn them in effigy before we accept their message. Their message is clear: patriarchy, dominionism, capitalism, militarism, the latent cannibalismof pedophilia…the foundation of our culture, our American world—built on the bones of an exterminated indigenous population by the broken bodies of enslaved Africans—is a lie. We, therefore, are more than liars; as much or more than anything, regardless of gender or race, we are the Children of the Lie. Making us all, to some degree, voluntary slaves of the Pan’s foundational mental illness—white supremacy—generating all the others. In other words, we are complicit with the acts of every criminal we judge.
Any artist revealing that truth to the Children of the Lie has done their part to save the world. But they have also committed a hateful enough act to justify their excommunication in the minds of the Lie’s inhabitants. Maybe even crucifixion.
We can never forgive an artist who makes any aspect of our slavery sound like a choice. Ever.
WUNDERKIND TOUR GUIDES OF THE UNDERWORLD
Huegelet and Perroud also found some signs that Mozart had some traits of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): In his letters, he mentions the feelings of emptiness often experienced by people with BPD. [His] temper outbursts, and his over-spending, as well as his drinking can be viewed as a sign of impulsivity. His mood appeared to be shifting between low and upbeat in a very sensitive reaction to circumstances. The authors can only speculate about his sense of identity, and how stable or unstable it may have been – it is unclear whether he was negatively affected by the constant traveling he did during childhood and in light of being raised as a Wunderkind.
“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Personality Disorder or Bipolar Disorder?” Simone Hoermann, Ph.D., MentalHelp.net
Donda West played an enormous role in her son’s life…She primarily raised him in Chicago following her divorce from his father, Ray West, when he was 3 years old. She pushed him to attend college, but when he dropped out (a second time), she supported his dreams of making music — something West often raps about…She was actually responsible for the superstar’s big break.
“Kanye West’s mom…it still seems to haunt him,’ Travis M. Andrews, Washington Post
Wynton, Kanye, MJ and R are mythical in their own right. Terence Blanchard, Drake, Prince and Frank Ocean notwithstanding, these tour guides of the American underworld, i.e. the House of Peter Pan, are the 2019 avatars of the African-American Wunderkind in middle age. Because it isn’t just what the Black male genius can do, it’s what he chooses to do with what he can do that makes him change and reveal the culture for what it is. As every generation in America has shown us (since the first former African slave bought his own European one in the 17thcentury), he is too brilliant to be an ethnic stereotype, yet too Black to reflect whiteness. Too gifted to dispel the idea of meritocracy; too hard working and representative of an oppressed class to do anything but dispel our fake meritocracy’s illusions.Too spiritual to be conventionally Judeo-Christian or Muslim; too working class religious (i.e. the religion of art)—and often too rich—to be conventionally middle-class agnostic or atheist. He is too young to be wise; too old to be naïve. Too attractive to be ignored; too politically repulsive to be coveted. Too significant to be forgotten, too unconventional to be easily remembered or understood.Kanye’s spirit—one part Protean, two parts Promethean, three parts Hubristic—is too different in good ways to be like us while simultaneously too much like us, in bad ways, to flatter us. Wynton’s, Michael’s and Robert’s essences in that regard, despite the varied directions of their morals and careers, are little different than West. Through their innate ontology, they and all their avatars past, present and future endlessly stir the pot of anxiety in the multicultural heart of the white American Mediocracy. Because whether he floats like a butterfly or stings like a bee, the Black Wunderkind in America is always too beautiful & right to be wrong; too troubled & wrong to be right. A social activist by nature, the truth the Black Wunderkind reveals makes you hate that you love him as much as you love that you hate him. Which can be joyfully excruciating.
The Black Wunderkind in America, when taking the lead in the dance with America’s delusions, reveals that we, more than he, are both Jekyll and Hyde. And the only time he reveals this better than when he’s telling the truth, is when he’s lying.
FROM THE PLANTATION TO THE PENITENTIARY
At an early age, [Wynton] exhibited a superior aptitude for music and a desire to participate in American culture. At age eight Wynton performed traditional New Orleans music in the Fairview Baptist Church band led by legendary banjoist Danny Barker, and at 14 he performed with the New Orleans Philharmonic. During high school Wynton performed with the New Orleans Symphony Brass Quintet, New Orleans Community Concert Band, New Orleans Youth Orchestra, New Orleans Symphony, various jazz bands and with the popular local funk band, the Creators…At age 17 Wynton became the youngest musician ever to be admitted to Tanglewood’s Berkshire Music Center. Despite his youth, he was awarded the school’s prestigious Harvey Shapiro Award for outstanding brass student. Wynton moved to New York City to attend Juilliard in 1979…
Wynton Marsalis Enterprises, Wynton Marsalis.org
That was a good question, and I had others. What was Wynton Marsalis, perhaps the most famous jazz musician alive, doing as a sideman in a band led by a little-known saxophonist in the slowest week of the year? Where were the scores of fans who used to line up on the sidewalk whenever Marsalis played, regardless of whether he was billed and promoted? Why did he look so downtrodden, so leaden ... so different that he was scarcely recognizable? How could his playing have been so perfunctory (as it was for most of that evening) and yet so transcendent on one bittersweet song about loss and self-doubt? What happened to Wynton Marsalis?
“Wynton’s Blues,” David Hajdu, The Atlantic
About thirty-five years ago, Prince and Michael Jackson were the new Afro-castrati: the new Rock and Pop music gods returning America’s music to its African origins; the new Black Wunderkinder of the world. Meanwhile, ten year old rap music, refusing to be smothered in the crib by the Black middle class, became the Elisabethan England to the R&BDon CarloSpain of the African-American unconscious: the knights of Hip-Hop established rap as the new cultural empire of our musical imagination, and re-colonized all of American popular music in the process. The young Marsalis Brothers of New Orleans, irrespective of their talent or high Africanicity, were developed by the music & media industries to be the antagonists of this drama: an upper class corrective to the lower class Black empowerment inherent to the cultural shift, so as to protect the delicate caste system upon which all of American neoliberalism depends. (This was a game Branford often refused to play [as Sting could attest], but one Wynton turned into a brand.) While the pendulum has swung several times since then, 2018, in the wake of Prince and Michael’s passing, showed us that the revenge of Hip-Hop’s children has been just as tragicomical as the respectable Marsalis family’s rise against it in ‘83: New Orleans/New Yorker Wynton stares sixty in the face, while Chi-town’s Kanye West, solidly in his forties, comes to terms with success, fame, marriage, wealth, the wisdom & cynicism of the peri-menopausal women of his high school class, and mental illness. 2019, however—in which R. Kelly’s and Michael Jackson’s legacies face inevitable prison sentences—is showing itself to be a year of reckoning. The Women ofBlack Lives Matter, #metoo, #timesup, and the revealers of the crimes of the Catholic Church have gradually made a way for the voices of our screaming children to be heard. In their wake, in this young new century, all of the male tour guides of the House of Peter Pan, living and dead, publicly confronted the Jekylls and Hydes within themselves. Naturally, as is their nature, they just did so in ways that only exacerbate, given our confusion and cowardice, the irritation inherent to their iconicity.
For “Gen X-ers” like me (the new Silent generation), who witnessed the rise of Michael, Prince, and the Marsalis brothers in high school, and then R. Kelly & Kanye in adulthood, jazzman Wynton is both Old Man 2018 and his good son: the one who will play with Willie Nelson but not The Roots. The ambassador who, like so many Black conservative intellectuals, would rather speak to the nations about a myth of his people (a myth made by other people) than to their reality—and confuses the twilight of these idols with a dying interest of Black people in Black genius. The good son who, for decades, dutifully protected the Black cultural farms from intellectual droughts and self-hating locusts but refuses to make room for his prodigal brother, Kanye, who has come home. (This while, as baby 2019 Springs forward, we desperately wanted something to make us forget what “home” under our parents’ watch has become.) Wynton’s shopworn argument about rap is thought-provoking. I guess. Given the state of the GOP’s ongoing conspiracy to destroy democracy for women; an impending false-flag war with Iran; the unbearable whiteness of killer cops; the death rattle of colonialism; climate change, and (oh right the easily measurable evolution of the art form that is rap music (making the entire argument painfully Straw Man-ish), there is no freedom to be found in having it. We know.
BUT MOST OF ALL WE AT WAR WITH OURSELVES
Let’s stop worrying about the future, all we have is today...Trump is on his hero’s journey right now.
There was something about when I put this hat on it made me feel like Superman. You made a Superman, that’s my favorite superhero, you made a Superman cape for me.
One of the moves I love that liberals try to do ― a liberal would try to control a black person with the concept of racism because they know we are a very proud, emotional people.
My dad and my mom separated, so there was not a lot of male energy in my home, and also I’m married to a family where, you know, there’s not a lot of male energy. It’s beautiful though.
“Here Are Some Of The Wild Things Kanye West Said To Trump At The White House,” Jenna Amatulli, U.S. News
“I think Kanye West makes products. He’s going to put his product out, and he wants his product to sell,” Marsalis said about the rapper… “I would not give seriousness to what he said, in that way. Okay?... it’s not like Martin Luther King said it, a person who knows or is conscious of a certain thing…The quality of his thought is in the products he makes.”
“Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis…Robert E. Lee,” Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post
For me, [R.] Kelly is a singular case, because of the volumes of evidence I’ve seen, and because that cannot help but inform the way I hear what Jezebel infamously (sarcastically or not) called his “magnificent ode to pussy.” But if he’s forever talking about sex in his art, in addition to telling “haters” to shut up and asking his Heavenly Father to forgive his unnamed sins, I think that obliges us to talk about what we hear him saying, just as we need to talk about what Michael Jackson said in the more unsettling moments on HIStory and Invincible, as much as we’d prefer to bask in the brilliance of Off the Wall and Thriller.
“Why are people finally paying attention to R. Kelly’s many crimes?,” John deRogatis, Village Voice
The white noise (pun intended) of the mediamakes truth more elusive the more they pretend to discuss it. For example, more than Coltrane as the arguable culmination of Charlie Parker; or Wynton that of Miles; or Amiri Baraka that of Langston Hughes; or Kanye that of Tupac, Michael Jackson, son of James Brown, is at his best the triumph of Black genius over white supremacy. At his worst he—like Robert Kelly, prodigal son of Teddy Pendergrass—might be the corrosive embodiment of white supremacy itself. This makes Michael the most emblematic of the battle within us all. And by far the most heartbreaking. Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons.
TELL ‘EM THAT IT’S HUMAN NATURE
In my quieter moments, however, I hear the now ancestrally resonant voices of my Harlem father and grandfather, providing my heart the clarity it seeks. They teach me, still, how to dance with the angels of jazz to heal my soul, knowing that healing is how we win. They teach me that the musical integrity of Marsalis can be a life raft; keeping me as an artist from drowning in the controversies and moral nightmares created by America’s disturbed psyche, as reflected in the legacies of “difficult men.” Indeed, thanks to that neoclassical integrity, my father and grandfather taught me, I will (probably) never listen to Wynton’s music with the presence that lament brings. (Just as I will never hear the voice of a true Monster spitting Kanye’s rhymes.) At least not with a suppressed lamentation, intense like the kind that rises and falls melancholic when I see a funny scene from a Cosby Showepisode on Youtube, or a fourth wall-breaking monologue from House of Cardson Netflix. Nonetheless, even as it once again fades into silence, when I hear Wynton conflate terrorist Confederate monuments with the contributions of Grandmaster Flash, LL Cool J, MC Lyte, Chuck D, Queen Latifa, Biggie, Tupac, Mos Def, Cube, Snoop, Jay-Z, Nas, Wu-Tang, A Tribe, Drake, Nicki, P. Diddy, Chance, The Roots, Cardi B, Kanye at his most brilliant and countless others, my heart—which after thirty years heals like Wolverine's but still breaks (and bleeds fine wine)—would understand if I let his recordings bring me down instead of lift my spirits up. There are some truths that can be deadly for an artist to forget, and this is one of them: a musician who does not listen is like salt that’s lost its savor. Wynton Marsalis does not malign, he does not hurt, he does not demean, and he does not silence, so much as he simply (and sadly) forgets. However, regardless of whether I’m singing “Old Man River” from Showboatwith Morris Robinson at San Francisco Opera, “Confutatis” of the Verdi Requiemwith the Grand Canyon University Symphony Orchestra in Phoenix,Götterdammerung with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, or roles in Porgy and Bessin every corner of the world, this jazz and opera nerd from the Marble Hill projects of the Bronx will listen to the souls of allBlack folk immortalized in song—because I won’t. I can’tforget; the ancestors healing my broken heart won’t let me. And because I listen, in Hip-Hop I hear, as in all Black music, what Wynton seemingly chooses not to hear: the songs of those who bled in the streets, not just in the fields.
That being said, I still don’t know what to do with Off The Wallor Thriller. (No differently than white people who should have no idea what to do with the Constitution.) I just don’t know. But I know what I believe. I believe we all can fly. We just can’t trust everyone with wings.
In the 2018/19 season, the Black Wunderkinderonce again showed us the prison we live in; one that we helped build. The prison, however, is not us. The 2019/20 season is our time to take ownership of the House; to properly analyze the true guards, cell blocks and wardens, and break out of this joint within us—before tearing the big one around us down, given it is primed to fall down on us all. True artistic appreciation—beyond the ego, beyond the lies of patriarchal white supremacy—may be the first step to getting out of hell(as the Orphean Wunderkinder—and their gifted sisters—have been telling us since whenever).The power to do so is ours, and like fine wine (from the heart of stomped and imprisoned grapes), it only grows more potent with time.
But don’t trip: that doesn’t mean the work is going to get any easier. Summer is almost here, but Winter is coming. A new Black Wunderkind will Spring our culture forward (and after the Summer heat, Fall us right back), but Winter always comes. Truth’s frostbite will sting our souls yet again, as only truth exposes wounds and facilitates healing, which gives us love. Ye shall know the truth, and the truth will make the Children of the Lie free. If we choose to accept it.
"From the beginning of his career, Marsalis has been more than a talented musician. He has been an evangelist for jazz to be recognized as a uniquely American art form, created by African-Americans. Yet he has stubbornly refused to acknowledge that same distinction for a genre that gave voice to the joys, frustrations, aspirations, and spirit of an entire generation of young African-Americans. Hip-hop untied their tongues, and gave them an avenue of pure expression not unlike the one Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, and Bud Powell found in jazz… Perhaps the real pathology is Marsalis’ belief that hardcore hip-hop is worse than Confederate monuments. He should know that black respectability means nothing to white supremacists. Racists don’t care whether African-Americans can play a trumpet concerto or freestyle a rhyme."
“Still harping on Hip-Hop…strikes again,” Renee Graham, Boston Globe
In his new book, Chris Hedges argues that American culture has been emptied out and replaced by fantasy. The worse reality becomes, he writes, the less a beleaguered population wants to hear about it; the more it distracts itself with squalid pseudo events of celebrity breakdowns, gossip and trivia. He attacks the debasement of popular culture on TV, in professional wrestling and pornography - what he describes as the moral nihilism of our elite universities and junk politics that personalizes and moralizes issues rather than clarifying them.
“Author Targets Pop Culture’s Empire of Illusion,” Neal Conan, host, NPR.org
“In celebrity culture we destroy what we worship… Jackson, robbed of his childhood and surrounded by vultures that preyed on his fears and weaknesses, was so consumed by self-loathing he carved his African-American face into an ever-changing Caucasian death mask and hid his apparent pedophilia behind a Peter Pan illusion of eternal childhood. He could not disentangle his public and his private self...And his fantasies of eternal youth, delusions of majesty, and desperate, disfiguring quests for physical transformation were expressions of our own yearning. He was a reflection of us in the extreme.
“The Man in the Mirror,” Chris Hedges, Truthdig
It’s time to grow up, Tinkerbell. Wendy has long since reattached our shadow. For the world to live, Peter Pan must die.
Let the healing of America begin.
Earl Hazell, native New Yorker, Basso Cantante opera singer and jazz composer/arranger, is the Executive & Artistic Director of Jazzoperetry (“Jazz-OP-ruh-tree”), Inc., the innovative production company combining jazz, opera and spoken word poetry in performance. He has worked with, among others, Max Roach, Zuben Mehta, Jon Hendricks, James Levine, Abbey Lincoln, Kurt Masur, Billy Taylor, Jimmy Heath, Karen Slack, Donald Byrd, Eric Owens, and the New York Philharmonic, as well as numerous opera houses globally including San Francisco Opera, the Semperoper of Dresden, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Teatro dell’Opera of Rome.
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