Monday, August 25, 2008

Thank you, Mr. Mac

I know it's been a few weeks since he passed away, but before too much time went by, I wanted to pay tribute to Bernie Mac.

I usually don't pay too much attention to what's going on with celebrities (except Angelina and Brad--OK, I admitted it!). And when I hear news of a celebrity passing away, I may stop briefly to say "That's sad," but then I'll move on with my life. Only a few times can I say that I was affected by a celebrity's passing so much that I had to sort of mourn it: Tupac, John Kennedy, Jr., Gwendolyn Brooks, Princess Diana are a few who had touched me so much in my life that I had to take some time to get over their deaths. Now, I've been saddened by Bernie Mac's passing. Although I'm not a stand-up comedian and Bernie Mac was not a poet, Bernie Mac inspired me every time I stepped behind a mic. I don't know if I could have ever shared my poetry as a part of Yellow Rage if it hadn't been for Bernie Mac.

"I ain't scared of you motherfuckers!" That's my mantra before every show--right about the time that I feel the anxiety and nervousness of getting up on stage--of anticipating hearing "Yellow Rage" being called to take the mic--I am meditating to Bernie Mac's voice: "I ain't scared of you motherfuckers!" until my voice takes over in my head. Then I can have that swagger--I can get on stage to do and say what I need to b/c it must be done. And if there are motherfuckers in the audience who don't get it--oh, well. "I ain't scared of you motherfuckers!"

Every show--from the time before Yellow Rage to now--this is my mantra. Every time. When you see me pacing back stage seemingly going over lines or sitting in the shadows taking deep breaths, this is what I'm doing: "I ain't scared of you motherfuckers!" At the start of our set when you see us perform live, while Catzie is talking to the audience setting up for "Listen Asshole," you'll see me cracking my knuckles and stretching my arms; inside my head, I'm chanting, "I ain't scared of you motherfuckers!" When you watch the You Tube of our performance from Def Poetry, right before Mos Def called us to the stage, I had grabbed Catzie's arm back stage b/c I didn't know if I could go out there. And what I said to myself was, "I ain't scared of you motherfuckers!" And we did our thing.

I say those lines to myself b/c I learned something very important, very deep, from Bernie Mac about what it means to get on stage to share yourself with others. And what it was that I learned from Bernie Mac is this: the stage potentially is a place of liberation and in order to occupy that space, you yourself must be free once you enter it.

I remember several years ago, I read an article about Bernie Mac's work ethic in preparing for a show. It said that it took him at least a half-hour to get into character. And some people will interpret that as him moving from himself to someone he wasn't for the sake of entertainment. But I interpreted that as he had to free himself of all external constraints so that he could be truly free to be HIM on stage. All the social baggage that partially or completely hinders us from saying what we truly think and showing what we feel, all of that needs to be sloughed off--shed like dead skin weighing us down.

And that's what "I ain't scared of you motherfuckers!" means to me. It means that I need to be my most honest Self on stage, and the only way I'm going to be able to do that is if I don't care what people may think of me or how they're judging me or categorizing me. I can only be ME in my most raw form. And when I'm on stage, that's the closest most people will ever get to the real me, the inside me of what I think and feel. On stage is where I am truly free.

So thank you, Mr. Mac. If it hadn't been for you, I would never have found the freedom on stage in poetry to be me. I am forever grateful. Peace and Blessings always.


Monday, August 04, 2008

We kill't it in NYC!

On Friday night, me and Catzie featured at The Five Points Variety Hour which takes place every Friday night at Silk Road on Mott Street, Chinatown NYC. We performed there last summer in a double-feature with Harry and Mark aka Two Warriors (Adriel and Ruby from iLL-Literacy also came through), and we had a lot of fun. But this time around was even more special for me b/c students from my Spoken Word Poetry Workshop at Community College of Philadelphia opened up the show for us.

Here's most of my crew before the show:

We took the Chinatown bus to NYC--what an adventure that was! (um, looking back it probably was NOT a good idea to sit near the bathroom) It was actually my first time on the Chinatown bus--being from New Jeru I usually drive to Trenton and catch the train to Penn Station so I don't worry about having to leave the city by 11pm (NJ Transit trains btn NYC and Trenton run pretty much all night). Anyway, we took the Chinatown bus so we could walk straight to Silk Road once we got in NYC. The trip up was pretty quiet since most everybody just tried to rest--especially me who had gotten stressed out trying to keep everybody together and on the same bus. Which didn't happen thanks to late-ass Lindo who had to catch the bus after ours THEN made me walk back to get him at the NYC bus stop b/c he didn't know how to get to Mott Street (sigh).

Things got a bit chaotic when we got off the bus in NYC--it's a LONG story but don't let the guys tell it b/c they been lying about how it all went down. All I'll say is we (the ladies) needed to find a bathroom and they (the guys) were worried about looking lost. Men, I tell ya.

At the venue, some folks went to eat while others just hung out. Here's some pics while we waited for the show to begin. Rell and Stephen quietly sat back in the cut until showtime:

Lindo goofed around on-stage,

while Rob took pictures of me taking pictures:

Emanuel's girlfriend Jasmin came along--it was her birthday.

Isn't she pretty? And here's the lucky guy himself:

Meanwhile, Steve C. anxiously waited for phone calls from his sister who was driving up to the show from Philly with her boyfriend and son.

And Rienne was steady trippin about me taking a picture of her:

But I got some good shots of her on-stage. The Five Points crew was hard at work prepping for the show--well, Feliza was while Louie caught a quick bite:

A crowd started to come in a little after 8pm and Marie began introducing my students:

First up was Emanuel.

It was so sweet to see him performing and Jasmin being there--the whole crowd even sang Happy Birthday to her. Next up was Steve Calvarese.

His sister missed his performance (Doh! we shoulda switched up the line-up so he could perform when she got there--thought of it too late), but he did a poem for her and tore it up! His whole heart and soul went into his performance; it was a beautiful thing. We'll get her a copy of the recording.

After that was Stephen aka Steve Megga.

Stephen started to come to the workshop when it first began two years ago, but then stopped coming for about a year. He found his way back the last few months, has gelled real well with the group, and KILLT IT on Friday night! His stage presence is just real strong--and it was a good thing to see Steve Megga own his lyrics and take control of the stage. I was feeling so proud of everybody, my eyes were welling with tears then . . .

Rob was up.

Rob is the funny guy in the group who always has jokes about everybody else's stuff but rarely puts his own stuff out there for critique. So none of us knew what he was gonna do in the show b/c he wouldn't tell us. I have to say I was laughing so hard I was crying--especially during the "Cougar" piece. He ran a bit over though (Ahem).

Rell aka Black C took the stage next.

I was so proud of Rell--he's worked so hard over the last couple months to hone this spoken word craft. He and Steve C., especially, have really listened to me and everyone else's suggestions and tried their best to take their poetry to the next level. And I think they have. Words cannot do justice to how happy I was to see how confident Rell was on-stage--and he did my favorite poem of his, "Blessed."

Lindo took the stage next.

Lindo is one of those people in the group who keeps everybody on their toes as far as working on their poetry b/c HE always is. His productivity is really amazing and his commitment to the craft and carving a space for himself as a poet is really motivating to other folks in the group, I think. And though he can be extra hyper sometimes (don't ever mentioned cinnamon sticks or put a Rubik's Cube in front of him), we need him and his critiques to make us think about our own poetry and make it better.

Rick was next.

Rick is the newest member of our group. He brings a different sort of flavor poetry-wise b/c his poetry is more smooth than hard-hitting. He's definitely a trip--and, boy, was he feelin it on-stage Friday night! I swear, though, if he asks me my name or tells me he thought I was white one more time, I could get violent . . .

Anchoring the line-up, was Rienne. Here's two pics since she wouldn't let me take pictures of her off-stage.

Rienne is so, so powerful--just a wonderful, amazing poet. From the door, her pieces were polished and her delivery mad strong. I feel privileged that she shares her work with us, and I'm moved beyond words when I hear her poems: I cry, I get goosebumps, and I cherish the memory of them when they're over. She is up there with some of the best spoken words poets I have ever seen. Truly.

Catzie and I took the stage after Rienne. Catzie wrote a new poem while coming up on the Chinatown bus--it was about the Chinatown bus.

Alas, no pictures of me b/c I was taking all the pictures. After the show, I rushed my students out of there to catch the last Chinatown bus back to Philly. They were a little hyper after the show--just filled with energy that they needed to release. Rienne tried to keep them in check. But amazingly, there was a oldhead on the bus who just started spitting poetry, telling stories, and sharing the wisdom hard-learned from his own life-struggles. His name was Norman aka Justice. I cannot retell this story in a way that would adequately convey just how much of a hold he had of our ears, but I knew I had to take a picture of him:

Here are some more pictures of everyone on the trip home (I had to get Chinatown bus pictures):

Special thanks to Feliza, Louie, Marie, Silk Road, and everyone else associated with Five Points for putting this show together--and making programs for the students. Thanks also to Catzie for all her support to me and the workshop over the past year or so. I'd also like to thank everyone in the audience on Friday night. Big thank yous to Leslye, Matthew, and CCP faculty and administration for making this trip possible and believing in our little group. Finally, thank you to my students. As I've always said, you've given this old cynic hope that poetry can indeed change the world.

Much love,