Monday, December 4, 2017

Edgar Allan Poe

Recently enjoyed the recent American Masters from PBS
episode which featured Edgar Allan Poe. Reminded me of a childhood obsession with Poe, his life as well as his poems and stories. Poe was a vital creative force whose own demons kept him from success. Hammered by debt all his life, whenever he achieved even a taste of fame and fortune, unwise decisions, sometimes based on his own arrogance, often caused his downfall. His talent cannot be denied - he was an absurdly brilliant wordsmith and even developed the modern detective mystery story as we know it  - he was often jealous of competitors and his background as a literary critic allowed him to lash out at colleagues of his time, even the great Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and others because he coveted their success and the public's respect of their literary achievements. But his work endures. though primarily known for his horror and fantasy themed work  - of which he only produced 12 out of hundreds of other writings - the masters' darker art sticks in the mind like a viscous spider's web.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

“They call me MR. Poitier.”

Throughout life, I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the films of the great Caribbean-born actor Sidney Poiter. Now a sturdy 90 years young, the iconic thespian’s most famous movies, the ones I used to enjoy on television as a child, featured an actor whom you couldn’t take your eyes off of yet his performances seemed to be indictments not of the black experience, but the white one.

Whether it be Lilies In The Field,  In The Heat Of The Night, or Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Poitier characters were the sole black face of any significance:  the tragic negro who was simply a conduit for the white characters’ social conscience.  Even though his very presence was important to me, the fact that a black star could even exist that wasn’t a stereotype, the fact that he seemed super-human and a righteously perfect made me think Hollywood used Poitier to trot out & herald its half-ass liberalism which finally made  him less a person than an idea. He was certainly unlike any black man I ever knew. 
Still, over the years I came to appreciate the man for his dignity and the academy award winning quality of his performances and the dynamism . – He was just always fascinating to watch.  Over the years as he became more powerful, Poitier because he began different kinds of roles, including romantic dramas that made him seem more accessible as a human being, as well as taking on a career as a successful director.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veteran's Day

My late father Joseph E. Brown served in two wars during a time when black soldiers were finally getting the respect they deserved in the Unites States military. He was drafted into the U. S. Army at the end of WWII and released early when the war ended. Then the Korean War came and in his third year of medical school, he was called back into service. Soon dad found himself in a medical unit in the thick of the fighting in North Korea. He never kept a gun.

He told me bits of his experiences when I was a kid and later gathered them into a book. He was very proud of his service.

Monday, November 6, 2017


Most subway riders know there’s a 3-inch gap between where a car door meets the platform. We pay it no mind. But to me, it’s a chasm, 44 miles wide, 100 deep. It’s where the tip of one of my crutches slipped through today. I tumbled to the dirty concrete platform and had to be lifted to my feet by strangers.

The mean old streets of New York are mean enough. The last thing you need is to be is "disabled". Having been struck down in the street by a speeding biker recently, resulting in a broken foot resulting in surgery, I’ve learned the hard way what it’s like to brave the big bad city, one foot forward.

I usually take the subway ride to work in the morning, arriving in roughly 25 minutes. This all has changed. First, a walk to the station, which used to take about 10 minutes (this has stretched to twice that time).  Each step, or swing, requires three times the energy, so by the time I arrive at the station, I find myself already damp with sweat.

When I enter the station, this is when the real fun begins. In a typical commuter morning, people pile on the trains, eyes either facing forward, or ears crazy-glued to their smart phones; the routine has become so burned in the collective DNA that any deviation is met with utter shock. As I try to adjust myself so I can board a car against a wave of retreating commuters, no one bothers to allow any leeway. Often rushing feet threaten to kick my crutches underneath me. Very few acknowledge my predicament and at worst, nearly send me reeling to the platform with no apology.
Once arriving to my stop, I set about the task of trying to locate an elevator or escalator. I pull out my trusty app – and lo & behold, no such luck. This means hopping up, step by step, to the street. Yes – sometimes some generous fellow commuter may offer to lend a hand, and I deeply appreciate it, but at this juncture I’m on my own.

Once I see the light of day again, I get enveloped by the wave of the crowd, inevitably traveling in the opposite direction, again completely oblivious to my plight. I bob to and fro, as if on skis - trying to be avoided being sideswiped to the sidewalk, until finally after squeezing through the revolving doors, mercilessly pushed from behind and thrust into my office lobby, exhausted and dripping with perspiration.
And so my day begins.

Monday, September 11, 2017

BZZZzzzzz: The Humble Hornet

Throughout this life, The Leopard has had an interesting & complicated relationship with hornets. The little critters seem to have turned up in different stages of my development - boy to adult. It’s like they somehow know me and come back, again and again, to let me know what’s what.

When I was about 9, my friends and I were playing in my backyard. One of our fvorite games was to pretend we were real-life GI Joes. One pal was the “Land Adventurer”. another, the “Air Adventurer”, and I was of course, the “Black Adventurer.”  In our imagination, we were all battling the evil henchman of some super-villain when, as we we jostled around, I fell directly, butt first, on a hornet. The thing about hornets, of course  - is that they don’t lose their stingers, like bees. They just keep stinging you.  - And it did. Also, they release a noxious venom that burns like hell. I remember running around my little yard like a maniac while my little pals stared at me, stunned and totally perplexed of what I was going on. Playtime was apparently over.

My next round was when I was in my 30’s.  A group of us went to the Catskills for a  weekend jaunt when as we hiked through some bushes we disturbed an enormous nest. Everyone ran in different directions and got out themselves harm’s way, except me - I awkwardly tripped over a log and fell forward onto my palms, buying my face in the dirt. As I tried to lift myself up, I was stung in several times on my cheeks and lips as well as along the length of my right leg for day I resembled John Merrick.

Finally, a few years ago I was visiting a museum in Pennsylvania my girlfriend. Behind the main building was a picnic area, with a tiny a bridge that crossed a small brook. Even though it was blocked off, I stupidly (and stubbornly) tried to climb through protruding shrubbery to walk across it. And, you guessed it – ran into a small cloud of hornets that proceeded to sting me my outstretched fingers.  Then and there, I finally learned my lesson. I am no match for the humble hornet. For now on, I steer clear.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Spirit Voice: Paul Simon

We sailed up a river wide as a sea
And slept on the banks
On the leaves of a banyan tree
And all of these spirit voices rule the night

Some stories are magical, meant to be sung
Songs from the mouth of the river
When the world was young
And all of these spirit voices rule the night
- "Spirit Voices"

I have been a fan of Paul Simon’s music as long as I can remember, starting with Simon and Garfunkel and all throughout my young life into the present (Like many folks, I first heard his music on the soundtrack of film The Graduate and it was like a gut punch). I have always felt as if Simon’s voice and lyrics were my spiritual conduit - whose music and art spoke to me in the deepest ways. I’m not sure what I have in common with him as human beings, (I’ve read many interviews over the years and he does seem to be as neurotic and insecure as I. I certainly can’t think of an artist whose work feels closer to my personal sensibilities.  His lyrics, whether they are about love, relationships, or even political ideology seem to mirror my own thoughts. I always felt as if he had a window into my head. Of course his poetic lyricism is far, far beyond what I could ever articulate.

The smartest people in the world
Had gathered in Los Angeles
To analyze the love affair
And possibly unscramble us
And we sat among our photographs
Examined everyone
And in the end, we compromised
And met the morning sun
-  "Think Too Much"
Despite the hit songs everyone knows (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Still Crazy After All These Years, You can Call me Al, etc.) on many tunes he is capable of some the most introspective words I’ve ever heard. And I think that’s where my love of his art comes from: from the very beginning, he’s never been afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. And for me, that’s about as courageous as it gets.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Chester Himes

I didn’t start my young adult reading required classic writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, or Harper lee rather my entry into the literary world (at least in the case of novels) was Chester Himes. I first began reading his novels while still in Jr. High School. My young mind was stimulated with tales of hookers, pimps, drug dealers and violent, corrupt cops in the set mythical kingdom of 1950’s Harlem. There was something salaciously mysterious about this dark, scandalous world. I remember sometimes looking over my shoulder while reading a particularly explicit sex scene, or an explicit burst of gory violence while in class.  
Chimses’ flawed heroes, like
Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, stoked my curiosity and stimulated my need for excessive violence and unscrupulous practices.
In adult years, I took in his later work, (mostly written after the disillusioned writer emigrated to Europe) finding an even more savage Himes, such as the brutal Plan B, where the author murders many his most famous characters in one fell swoop in an orgy of violence that makes American Psycho read like The Little Prince. The apocalyptic story, tells the story of an all out race war that begins in Harlem and later consumes the entire planet. And Yesterday Will Make You Cry, a frank, powerful account written as a novel about the author’s experiences in prison. One of the best ever written in my opinion, an even stronger gut punch than John Cheever’s prison novel, Falconer.

Himes will probably never go down as one of the greats in literary history on the level of a Cheever, but his colorful stories and tough tales will forever be an inspiration to me.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Jacques Yves Cousteau - King Of The Sea

When the Leopard was but a cub, one of my childhood heroes was explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher Jacques Yves Cousteau. I came to know from his TV show in the late 60’s early 70’s The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. I never missed an episode. 

I remember buying, with my own money from my paper route, a plastic model kit of his famous vessel, The Calypso (Immortalized by the John Denver song of the same name) (!).  I worked so hard on this thing, and felt so proud. It had a tiny helicopter and a teeny yellow sub (partially designed Cousteau himself) included. I also went the library and took out his first book, packed with pictures,
The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure. Don’t think I ever returned it. Here's hoping the New York Public Library never track me down.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Touch Of Sin

Wu Jiang as Dahai
The Leopard was mesmerized by the film A "Touch of Sin" a 2013 Chinese drama directed by Jia Zhangke about violence and relationships in working class culture. It revolves around four threads set in vastly different geographical and social milieus across modern-day China, ranging from the bustling southern metropolis of Guangzhou and Dongguan to the more rural townships in Jia's home province of Shanxi. It has so many stunning, beautiful, strange and macabre images: A bloodied woman, knife in hand, strolling down the center of a highway; beautiful young girls marching like patriots in uniform to the amusement of male clients; A man casually stands in the darkness, pet monkey on his soldier;  mountains, vistas and twisting roadways.
You get a small sense of the sad and tragic lifestyles of working class community in China within these four unforgettable vignettes.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

O Peixe

Click image to enlarge
At the New Museum Of Comtemporary Art in the Lower East Side in New York, there's an extraordinary video exhibit by the Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade, called “O Peixe,” or, in English, “The Fish". It is mesmerizing. 
Here's description by the New Yorker writer Vinson Cunningham :
"A fisherman, dark-skinned and shirtless, sits in a boat on a quiet river and, before long, catches a fish. The fish gasps for air and the fisherman holds it to his chest until it dies. This sequence—performed by a series of fishermen, of various ages and using various styles of capture—is the spine of the work, interrupted by passages of quiet natural beauty; one shot is a steady, stately pan through scores of trees and empty air behind." 
There's something existentially beautiful and strangely compelling about seeing these men calming the fish as if a child (or a lover) as they twitch by carefully stroking it until finally calmly and slowly it succumbs to death.
(click image here to see excerpt)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Steely Dan

Click image to enlarge
Despite all the diversity in 70’s pop radio, Steely Dan always stood out. In the hands of founders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, there was something about the seamless mixture of jazz, rock and R&B. First, there was Fagen’s wildly distinctive voice, which always seemed on the edge of disappearing off key. And of course, there was the flawless musicianship and state of the art production. This is music created by intellectual college geeks, but what really drew a in a listener as the melodicism and the underlying soulfulness. The duo wrote of mysterious tales of misfits: gamblers, junkies, burnouts, and losers. It’s far-reaching, dramatic music.

With tunes like “Peg”, ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, ‘Aja”, and so many other undisputed classics, and the band's sound was totally beyond category. It’s just Steely Dan.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Calling all teachers

My oldest Leopard cub has recently started attending a good art college on the west coast. He’s handling a full class schedule while working a part time job and leading his band while playing guitar for another, and so far is maintaining pretty good grades. But because he drives 40 minutes to and from school, gas kills a lot of his pay, he’s always low on funds.
Students in his school maintain a small studio they share with other students that are inspected by the professors time to time. An instructor came in to look at his work and was impressed, but noticed he had done painting on cardboard in lieu of proper traditional materials. He asked him if he meant to use the cheap cardboard specifically.
My boy told him, ‘No,” but it was all he could afford at the moment. The instructor said he would have him sent a check for 100 bucks towards supplies. – It’s something the faculty is allowed to do occasionally if so moved. When my son told me this, I reacted a little like my own father might: “Just make sure you use that to paint, and not splurge at Taco Bell”.
It’s so important that educators display a personal interest in their students, and that the institutions allow that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Al Jarreau

The Leopard's fondest memory of Al Jarreau is his album Look To The Rainbow, a double LP live concert from 1977.
A pal of mine and I used to listen to it constantly in the early 80’s. It got so we had played it so many times we knew every sound, every note, ever whoop and cry.
When I think of him I think of one of my favorite lines in his song, ”Could You Believe” - “Could you believe in a dream / when I tell you that it's true?” I miss Al and will listen to his music the rest of my life.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

When Will I See You Again

Click image to enlarge
What your very favorite song is often corresponds with what is happening in your life. Your taste changes with the times. Music you treasured when you were 10 often seems much less sophisticated by the time you're in your 30's. 

The only song that I have consistently loved since the first time I heard it is the Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again"written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. 

It is simply the perfect pop song: ethereal, otherworldly, transcendent, both tragically sad and deliriously happy. I've always pictured the three lovely angels, Fayette Pinkney, Shirley Porter and Linda Turner on a heavenly cloud singing from above, gently whispering to a lover if he will return. Their intertwined voices function as one, sensuously pleading a wonderful moment they shared will be repeated. By the the end of the song, the answer is never given and they seem to exist in a mythical kingdom forever up on high, searching or their lover's return.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Race bait

Dateline 2005:
I was pulled over at a police checkpoint around 2am one night. I was on my way home to New Jersey to my family. It was set right before entering the Lincoln Tunnel. I was told to park behind other cars in front of a mobile unit while licenses were checked. I saw several cars in front of me leave as they pulled off back into the tunnel, but I was held in place. Finally an officer came to the passenger side window and told me to get out of the car.
“Is there a problem, officer?”
“Get out of the car NOW, sir.”
I got out and was handcuffed from behind. I kept asking, “What’s wrong?” “Why are you arresting me?” The cop said, “Shut up, sir.”
He brought me into the unit and I was put in a tiny cell with several other drivers. There was nowhere to sit so we all stood up.
After about an hour another officer came over to me and said, “You live in Brooklyn?” I said, “No – Morristown, New Jersey (where I lived at the time)." He murmured, “It’ll be better for you if you tell the truth.” I said I was.
He walked away. I stood in the cell for the next 3 hours while some others who had been arrested were released until there were only a handful of us. Finally, the cell door was opened. I was exhausted. I had been standing all night – and still cuffed. We were moved to a paddy wagon and driven to a precinct. Inside the back of the pitch-black wagon, we were chained together.
I was processed at the station – I have no record – and was thumb printed and photographed. We were then separated, to be placed in cells. Then the same cop from earlier asked me again – “Do you live in Brooklyn?” I said “No”.
“All right, then.”
I was taken down a long hallway past several cells, where I could hear men sleeping. I was brought all the way to the end of a row and put into a dark cell. I could see someone else was there. I had never been arrested or in jail before. I sat on the bottom bunk and never laid down. I had to go to the bathroom (there was a tiny toilet) but held it all night. The other figure in the room and I never spoke a word.
The next morning, I was hauled out and again put in another paddy wagon - this time chained at the ankles with several other men. We traveled through downtown Manhattan. So strange to see people going to work as if it were any other day. 
And I still didn’t know what I was there for.
I was brought into a courthouse and placed into a holding cell with about 30 other people. I was told by someone there that we were waiting to talk to a judge about our case. (the police never gave me this information though I asked several times).
After waiting all day, my name was finally called. I was brought before the judge. I was asked pointedly: “Are you Keith Brown, who resides at so & so Brooklyn?” I said, “No, your honor.”
“You fit the description of a Keith Brown who is accused of several bicycle thefts in Brooklyn.” 
They had a name and a description – African American, around my age and height, and an address –but that was all. No picture, no social security number. No known record.
It wasn’t enough to hold me any longer, but they scheduled a court date at a later time where I would have to defend myself and have my arrest wiped from the record. Which I did, with the help of an expensive lawyer.
No apologies from NYPD were forthcoming. I remember walking out on to the street after the ordeal disheveled, tired, and dispirited. 
But not really sure how to feel – except the angriest I’d ever been.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

King Krule

Everyone once in a while The Leopard stumbles on a new musical artist who offers special promise and excitement, the kind I remember when I heard when I first listened to, say, Lou Reed, Neil Young or  PJ Harvey. An artist who has an original insight or sound and has a special way of communicating complex emotions with ease and cool.

For me lately that has been the English singer/songwriter King Krule. improbably blessed with the face of an a "Happy Days" era Ron Howard  and the voice that has the cigarette-stained heft of a man who's seen and knows too much, this 22-year old's music has seeped into my brain in a way I haven't felt since I was a cub.

From Wikipedia:
"Archy Marshall (born 24 August 1994), more commonly known by his stage name King Krule, is an English singer - songwriter, producer and musician. After a hectic and troubled childhood, he began recording music in 2010 under the moniker "Zoo Kid". The following year he adopted the name "King Krule". He has released several EPs, and his debut full-length album, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, came out in 2013 to positive reviews. His music is difficult to classify, with elements of various genres like punk jazzhip hopdarkwave, and trip hop."

Song: "Neptune Estate"