November 17, 2010 • 11:38 am 0
What do you do at a coffee shop?: So have laptops killed the coffee shop? I can’t go that far. What I will say that it does alter the physical landscape of what a coffee shop looks like, which is that it looks like people are working, which interferes with the idea of the kind of coffee shop people like me see – a place with great mugs, great coffee, friends, or a journal to empty your thoughts… (via Fighting Reality.)
Fighting Reality goes to cafés to read and relax and feels like the preponderance of laptops is a somewhat unwelcome intrusion of the world of work into this space of sociability, pleasure and relaxation. And I sympathize with his/her perspective—it’s certainly not an isolated one.
When the people behind Borderlands Books were opening a café next door, they asked for input from their community of friends and customers on what that café should be like. One of the issues was WiFi (wireless internet access), and the decision was made that WiFi would affect the character of the café in precisely the ways that Fighting Reality raises. They didn’t put in WiFi, so their café would not turn too much into a work space, with a bunch of individuals hunched behind their laptops, beavering away in the digital salt mines of our Web2.0 world. Instead, what they hoped for and largely achieved was a space where people read books (often purchased next door) on the comfy couches or chat with friends at the nice wooden tables.
Just down Valencia Street, the very popular coffee shop Ritual Roasters took a somewhat different approach. They left in their WiFi, but took out almost all of the power outlets. Customers can still surf, tweet, Facebook, but only as long as their batteries last. This approach may perhaps have been motivated more by commercial considerations, pushing for a faster turnover, than at creating a particular ambiance, but in fact it has changed the feel of their space. Before, coming into the café one would be faced by ranked masses of laptops (mostly MacBooks), making the place resemble an open-plan office. Now, there’s less of that, with laptop users mostly clustered around the large communal table in the back, where the few remaining power outlets are. Read the rest of this entry »
June 7, 2010 • 9:50 pm 0
I first heard this track at a now-defunct record store in the Berkeley mudflats. It was one of those places with “listening stations” where one could hear the albums that were “on display”—and any album not featured on one of their listening stations could be taken to the front counter and listened to on headphones there.
These listening stations, which were big for a while here in the States but now seem to be disappearing, were a throwback to the record store experiences of my youth. When I was a kid, living on Potrero Hill, there was a great record store a few blocks from my house, on Connecticut Street. We’d go over there after school pretty regularly and sort through the hits and hot new singles—45rpms in those days. And we’d take a single up to the counter, The Jackson 5’s latest or something from The O’Jays, and the owner would play it for us. And we’d shake our groove things, a little group of black and white kids, friends, dancing in the dusty aisles of a neighborhood record store.
Those days and that record store have other powerful connections to this strange, terrific track. The neighborhood I lived in back then was predominantly African American, poor and working class, a mixture of small, older homes and housing projects, and the church was a powerful center and focus of the African American community in the area. Walking though my neighborhood on a Sunday morning, I would pass families going to church in their Sunday finery, the women in impressive hats, and from the churches would emanate the voice of preachers, call and response, the rhythms and cadence and force that is recreated in “The Prayer.”
Redd, Ray and Andre’s Prayer: Redd Foxx had a comedy routine called “The Prayer” which found Foxx taking on the tones of a black preacher to wish a litany of disasters upon Alabama governor George Wallace, then one of most prominent faces of segregationism (he of “segregation now, segregation forever” infamy). Legendary singer/songwriter/producer/”Black Godfather” Andre Williams hooked up with comedian/singer Ray Scott to record a version of the routine, in which Scott put all of his fervor into the presentation with appropriate church organ accompaniment and background vocalists adding a “church” feel. The result had a 1970 release as a Checker 45 (backed with the countrified novelty “Lily White Mama, Jet Black Dad”), which led to an LP the following year. (via Get On Down With The Stepfather Of Soul!.)
What is there to say about the song? It’s a superb evocation of the style of preaching in black churches, wildly inventive in the disasters it prays to the Lord to inflict on Wallace. It goes on and on, piling one thing onto the other in an increasingly giddy fashion. The specific details—14 possums, 22 freight trains—are particularly effective and appealing. But while it may raise a smile, it never exactly becomes funny. The anger is always right there on the surface.
The greatest moment in the song is the final line: Let him have nappy hair and be black like me. After the stupefying chain of disaster, pain and violence depicted in the song, it ends by saying, if that’s not enough, then make him black. It’s a shock. The song has been so powerful and in its way celebratory up till then—celebrating the anger and sense of purpose and solidarity in the black community. But what that final line says, in a suddenly quieter, no longer preaching voice, is that it is still a matter of violence and suffering to be black in the United States of America. Combined with the immensity of George Wallace’s fear and hated of African Americans, that makes being black the worst fate we could wish for him. It’s bracing.
A number of the cultural texts I’ve looked at recently have a twist at the end, that propels them in a new direction, or changes the way you see everything that has gone before, or introduces some powerful nuance to the discussion: the “long swim” at the end of Dobyn’s “Rain Song” (here) that brings in the seriousness of love at then end of what otherwise seems a lighthearted poem, or the final line of Dar William’s “It Happens Every Day” (here) that finally acknowledges the lost love that has haunted the song all along. It can be very effective, that twist at the end, but I think it can also be an easy way out, a shortcut to producing (a semblance of) profundity, particularly in poems. But it’s not always the easy way, and sometimes it is completely earned—and it is seldom more powerful than here, where it is like the floor dropping out from underneath you.
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