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Friday, 29 June 2012

One Nation, Invisible: Lorenzo Thomas: Back in the Day


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http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/ppmsca/04300/04304v.jpg

Man on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial holding a banner for the Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention, at Black Panther Convention
: photo by Thomas J. O'Halloran/Warren K. Leffler, 19 June 1970 (U.S. News & World Report Collection, Library of Congress)





When we were boys
We called each other "Man"
With a long n
Pronounced as if a promise

 
We wore felt hats
That took a month to buy
In small installments
Shiny Florsheim or Stacy Adams shoes
Carried our dancing gait
And flashed our challenge

 
Breathing our aspirations into words
We harmonized our yearnings to the night
And when old folks on porches dared complain
We cussed them out
....under our breaths
And walked away
....And once a block away
Held learned speculations
About the character of their relations
With their mothers

 
It's true
That every now and then
We killed each other
Borrowed a stranger's car
Burned down a house
But most boys went to jail
For knocking up a girl
He really............truly
............deeply............loved
............really............truly............deeply
 
But was too young
Too stupid, poor, or scared
To marry


Since then I've learned
Some things don't never change:

 
The breakfast chatter of the newly met
Our disappointment 

 
With the world as given
 
Today,
 
News and amusements
Filled with automatic fire
Misspelled alarms
Sullen posturings and bellowed anthems
Our scholars say
Young people doubt tomorrow

 
This afternoon I watched
A group of young men
Or tall boys
Handsome and shining with the strength of futures
Africa's stubborn present
To a declining white man's land
Lamenting
As boys always did and do
Time be moving on
Some things don't never change
And how

 
......back in the day
Well
......things were somehow better
They laughed and jived
Slapped hands
And called each other "Dog"



Lorenzo Thomas (1944-2005): Back in the Day, from Time Step (2004)





http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/ppmsca/12800/12888v.jpg

Negro going in colored entrance of movie house on Saturday afternoon, Belzoni, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi: photo by Marion Post Wolcott, October 1939 
 
Railroad station, Manchester, Georgia

Railroad station, Manchester, Georgia: photo by John Vachon, May 1938

Secondhand clothing stores and pawn shops on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee

Secondhand clothing stores and pawn shops on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee
: photo by Marion Post Wolcott, October 1939

Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee


Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee
: photo by Marion Post Wolcott, October 1939

Sign above moving picture theater, Waco, Texas

Sign above moving picture theatre, Waco, Texas: photo by Russell Lee, November 1939

Theatre in Leland, Mississippi  

"Rex Theater for Colored people." Leland, Mississippi, in the Delta area: photo by Dorothea Lange, June 1937.

Rex Theatre for colored people. Leland, Mississippi Delta

"Rex Theater for Colored people." Leland, Mississippi, in the Delta area: photo by Marion Post Wolcott, November 1939

Tourist cabins for Negroes. Highway sign. South Carolina

Highway sign advertising tourist cabins for Negroes, South Carolina
: photo by Marion Post Wolcott, June 1939

Lunchroom near Belle Glade, Florida

Lunch room, Belle Glade (vicinity), Florida
: photo by Marion Post Wolcott, January 1939

Cafe in warehouse district during tobacco auction season. Durham, North Carolina

Cafe in the warehouse district during tobacco auction season, Durham, North Carolina
: photo by Marion Post Wolcott, November 1939

A cafe near the tobacco market, Durham, North Carolina

Cafe near the tobacco market, Durham, North Carolina
: photo by Jack Delano, May 1940

Street scene near bus station in Durham, North Carolina

Street near the bus station, Durham, North Carolina
: photo by Jack Delano, May 1940

At the bus station in Durham, North Carolina

At the bus station, Durham, North Carolina
: photo by Jack Delano, May 1940

A Greyhound bus trip from Louisville, Kentucky, to Memphis, Tennessee, and the terminals. Waiting for the bus at the Memphis terminal

People waiting for a bus at the Greyhound bus terminal, Memphis, Tennessee
: photo by Esther Bubley, September 1943

A rest stop for Greyhound bus passengers on the way from Louisville, Kentucky, to Nashville, Tennessee, with separate accommodations for colored passengers
 

Rest stop for Greyhound bus passengers on the way from Louisville, Kentucky to Nashville, Tennessee, with separate accommodations for colored passengers: photo by Esther Bubley, September 1943

 A Greyhound bus trip from Louisville, Kentucky, to Memphis, Tennessee, and the terminals. Sign at bus station. Rome, Georgia 
  
Sign at bus station, Rome, Georgia: photo by Esther Bubley, September 1943

Fish restaurant for colored in the quarter cotton hoers are recruited. Memphis, Tennessee

Fish restaurant for Negroes in the section of the city where cotton hoers are recruited, Memphis, Tennessee
: photo by Dorothea Lange, June 1937

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a26000/8a26700/8a26761v.jpg

Negro drinking at "Colored" water cooler in streetcar terminal, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

Photos beneath the poem from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress

13 comments:

Sandra said...

"todo tiempo pasado fue mejor"?

Susan Kay Anderson said...

There are lots of signs telling you who you are at any given time. When you want or need something, for instance. Then, you can be defined by small word prisons stenciled by the other members, on flat surfaces or air. That keeps things orderly in the factory, inside or outside. Please do not use your imagination.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNoKGgrDefY

TC said...

Lorenzo Thomas: Chances Are Few (1/4)

Lorenzo Thomas: Chances Are Few (2/4)

Lorenzo Thomas: Chances Are Few (3/4)

Lorenzo Thomas: Chances Are Few (4/4)

TC said...

Names and signs are stencils on flat surfaces of air.

People have more dimensions.

Jonathan Chant said...

Once again, you introduce me to some new poetry. Thanks Tom.

Word prisons indeed...

Wooden Boy said...

And once a block away
Held learned speculations
About the character of their relations
With their mother

Close to perfect comic timing there.

A great poem that unfolds with elegance.

And the breathing! running through and then coming into a new kind of presence with the words "really... truly... deeply".

Wonderful.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

On the other hand, being “colored” blind was not all Greek to the likes of Ioannis Alexandros Veliotes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEeeGMpM_Nk

TC said...

Jonathan, this is a poet so fine it's only his diffident retiring nature and sly quiet humour kept him from being better known. But of course it's those same qualities kept him out ahead of the pack all along, known to the cognoscenti as the master he was.

The video links I've posted reveal Lorenzo in his nature. The cool comic timing WB speaks of -- how many poets really have that? One in a million?

And talking of the most coolio:

"Way-out Willie gives my heart a treat!"

Vassilis, Ioannis Veliotes / Johnny Otis was a figure here. An artist who "chose to be black". He is a legend locally, revered across the ragged boundary lines where B-Town and Oak-Town come together.

This kind of respect across those lines is not common.

Johnny Otis Dies: 1814 dreadyhead

TC said...

Obits, sad -- missing Lorenzo, missing Johnny Otis.

Johnny Otis, the "godfather of rhythm and blues" who wrote and recorded the R&B classic "Willie and the Hand Jive" and for decades evangelized black music to white audiences as a bandleader and radio host, has died. He was 90.

Otis, who was white, was born John Veliotes to Greek immigrants and grew up in a black section of Berkeley, where he said he identified far more with black culture than his own. As a teenager, he changed his name because he thought Johnny Otis sounded more black.

"As a kid, I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black," he once explained.

His musical tastes clearly reflected that adopted culture and even after he became famous, his dark skin and hair often led audiences and club promoters to assume he was black like his band mates.

Otis was leading his own band in 1945 when he scored his first big hit, "Harlem Nocturne." In 1950, 10 of his songs made Billboard Magazine's R&B chart. His "Willie and the Hand Jive" sold more than 1.5 million copies and was covered years later by Eric Clapton.

He later wrote "Every Beat of My Heart," which was a hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips.

But the influence of Otis was felt most through his ability to recognize and promote talent. He wove into his bands such diverse and legendary R&B vocalists as Etta James, Hank Ballard, Big Mama Thornton and The Robins, the latter a group that would evolve into the Coasters.

He produced Thornton's original recording of "Hound Dog," a song that would later become an even bigger hit for Elvis Presley.

"His band shows a different style on pretty much every new recording," said Piero Scaruffi, author of "A History of Rock Music, 1951-2000." ''The reason is that Otis did not force his personality on others but worked with the personality of the others. He may not have been a great composer or performer himself, but he was an impressive conductor."

Otis launched his professional music career as an 18-year-old drummer for bawdy barrelhouse pianist Count Otis Matthews, although he had never played the drums until then.

Matthews instructed him to simply pound out the syncopated "shave and a haircut, six bits" beat that would become the backbone of early rock 'n' roll. His mastery of it soon proved his ticket to other bands and eventually to headlining his own group.

Otis saw himself as curator of black popular music, which for him represented much more than a diversion or livelihood. His cross-country R&B reviews and his radio and television appearances were dedicated to delivering black music to white audiences.

"The music isn't just the notes, it's the culture — the way grandma cooked, the way grandpa told stories, the way the kids walked and talked," he once said.

While he always returned to playing music, in later years touring with his sons Shuggie and Nicky, Otis' eclectic interests also included politics, art and organic food.

He worked for years as deputy chief of staff to state Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally when Dymally served in the Assembly, state Senate, as lieutenant governor and as a congressman.

In later years, Otis spent much of his time painting and sculpting. He also opened an organic grocery store in Sebastopol in the early 1990s to sell his son Nicky's vegetables, decorating the store with his own colorful murals.

Although he had little success selling groceries, he did draw large crowds to the market every Friday and Saturday night when he performed there with his band.

"It was a smashing success," Gould said. "You had to make reservations three weeks ahead. It was amazing."

Otis also had a regular show playing records on the nonprofit Pacifica Radio Network's stations until failing health prompted him to retire in 2005.

TC said...

And still remembering Lorenzo:

Lorenzo Thomas: Downtown Boom

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

"We wore felt hats
That took a month to buy
In small installments
. . .

Time be moving on
Some things don't never change
And how
......back in the day Well ......things were somehow better They laughed and jived
Slapped hands
And called each other "Dog"

Great poem together w/ this amazing collection of photos by these FSA stars (Marion Post Wolcott, John Vachon, Russell Lee, Dorothea Lange, Jack Delano, Ester Bubley) whose work continues to show us how it was "back in the day" -- lest we might otherwise forget. . .

6.29

light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, birds calling from field in left
foreground, no sound of wave in channel

self portrait wearing a hat,
continued rectangular

figures present, it appears,
person in first scene

cloudless blue sky reflected in channel
grey whiteness of fog across from point

larry white said...

Tom, you put it perfectly: "this is a poet so fine it's only his diffident retiring nature and sly quiet humour kept him from being better known. But of course it's those same qualities kept him out ahead of the pack all along.."