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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Lorenzo Thomas: Downtown Boom


Los, with his partner and emanation Enitharmon; plate 100 of Jerusalem: William Blake, 1804-20, etching with pen, watercolour and gold, 146 x 222 mm (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven)

There are no gospel singers

On the corners
They held down for Jesus
Valets park cars
At restaurants for fancy people
On expense accts or dates

So many times
People come up to me
And say, Billy
Hey wait a minute
You not Billy! 

You can see the new ballpark
Just past the Courthouse

But which way is redemption?

Lorenzo Thomas (1944-2005): Downtown Boom, from Time Step (2004)


Valet Boy, Puduraya District, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: photo by L joo, 17 July 2007


 Valet Boy, Puduraya District, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: photo by L joo, 17 July 2007

File:Gospel singers Pike Place Market Seattle Washington 2010.JPG

Gospel singers on the Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington: photo by Marmaduke Percy, 5 June 2010


Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas, interior view, with J,P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo buildings visible in background
: photo by Amir Assadi, 15 May 2004


  Minute Maid Park Houston, exterior: photo by WhisperToMe, 20 July 2008

Gospel singer Yolanda Adams of Houston at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Fair Grounds, New Orleans, Louisiana: photo by Kim Welsh, 29 April 2012 

Gospel singer Shemekia Copeland at Chicago Folk and Roots Festival: photo by Thee Erin, 10 July 2010

Gospel singer Shemekia Copeland at Houston International Festival: photo by fossilmike, 26 April 2008

Harris County Courthouse (built 1910, semi-retired), Houston, Texas: photo by Mick Watson, 19 January 2009

Harris County Courthouses, Houston, Texas: photo by Mick Watson, 19 January 2009


TC said...

Talking of gospel, remembering Lorenzo talking about Percy Mayfield.

TC said...

Still, though -- Jack has long since been ground into the road (dust to dust), and we don't yet know -- which way is redemption?

Hmm, the only answer to the poet's totally pertinent question I've been able to come up with so far (perhaps somewhat influenced by the home amateur surgical debridement procedure aka evening's entertainment) was: not by the I-80, or any of its tributaries or outlets.

That awful ersatz oiltown ballpark with the tall towers of the big banks and investment ruins-in-the-making looming behind, no not that way either.

That Houston Courthouse Complex has so outgrown the old complex, from the look of it one is almost tempted to suspect this may be a society with problems.

But yo -- Hey, Billy!

Hazen said...

Gotta hand it to Al Gore. He was being his own straight man when he said, 'Houston? We got a problem!' In the Seventies people would say Dallas is what's wrong with Texas and Houston is what's wrong with the world.

Hey wait a minute you not Billy!
Now there's an epitaph.

The piano player backing Percy is so fine, just knocked out! Wish I knew his name.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

"...And every true artist is the salvation of every other."

"I thought they got on so badly as a rule."

"Perhaps. But only artists produce for each other the world that is fit to live in..."

D.H. Lawrence, Women In Love, conversation between Gerald and Birkin

TC said...

"...And every true artist is the salvation of every other." Ahh.

Hazen, The piano player at Percy's party is Mark Naftalin, whom you may remember as the keyboard guy with Paul Butterfield. He went on to be a sideman with many legendaries, Otis Rush and Lowell Fulsom among others. He worked a lot with John Lee Hooker. A sample.

John Lee Hooker: Live at the Mark Naftalin Blue Monday Party, 1981

He did that TV blues show for four years ('79-'83) and has been very active on the West Coast ever since, has a weekly Blues Power Hour on an FM station in SF and promotes the music tirelessly.

Though perhaps not Percy Mayfield's match with the White Russians. But Percy set that bar high, and did not hold onto it for long after that astonishing video was made. I've never seen anything like it.

As for Houston, the top shot here pretty much tells the story.

Lorenzo was (need it be said) not a Houston native. He was born in Panama, grew up in New York City, landed at Texas Southern in 1973, and then taught for more than 20 years at the U of Houston (Downtown).

His thought and work tended to cross the boundaries and slip between the cracks, making it difficult to pigeonhole, and you know anything that defies categorization is almost always good -- and not very well known.

There's an interesting interview here.



"etching with pen, watercolor and gold"

long live "gospel singers" [forever]

"You can see the new ballpark
Just past the Courthouse
But which way is redemption?"


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
top of ridge, green of leaves on branch
foreground, no sound of wave in channel

marginal color notes, small
sketch in pen and ink

to set up a world, was when,
what limits itself to

grey white of fog against top of ridge,
shadowed green pine on tip of sandspit

larry white said...

Thanks for these beauties by Thomas who became for me one of the standouts of the Black Arts movement of the '60s, along with Baraka, Reed, Spellman and David Henderson (all of whose books I bought and read often back then while listening and dancing to the music, listening to Hernton rap on Pacifica). Need to catch up with Thomas, whom I didn't know had died, last book of his I read being the second edition of Chances Are Few. Otis was an influence from the late fifties, mostly through the many other artists he assisted. The name worked and made his point-- didn't know he was Lebanese until a couple of years ago. No longer have highspeed so am blind and deaf to youtube these days.

Wooden Boy said...

It's very hard to think of singing out in such a world.

Thank you for the lines from Lawrence, Susan. They helped my head.

larry white said...

Thomas is singing about a kind of war of attrition. His neighborhood has changed. Elsewhere in the various Bible belts Gospel rules, for better or worse. Where I live in rural Iowa it is challenged but still perhaps predominant. Who knows? I sing gospel when I sing a Christian hymn. In places Thomas knows, where it used to be common, this is rare or nonexistent. What then? Where then? Calling Bob Marley.

larry white said...

Back in about 2006 I was singing with chamber singers mostly from Maharishi University in Fairfield in a concert that featured several groups singing sacred songs. Providentially, after we sat down, the last group took the stage: Young, Gifted and Black Gospel Choir of Grinnell College. I believe it was the director, Barry Jones, who, sitting at his keyboard, introduced his choir and ensemble by saying with knowing emphasis, "This is gospel." This was my dream choir and I was clapping, singing and shouting right along like at the climax of a Sun Ra concert only better. Like in some Black churches. Thanks for the photos of Yolanda and Shemekia. Long live Arizona Dranes!

TC said...


When I was living downtown in the 1960s, I had a friend who was a member of Sun Ra's Intergalactic Arkestra and communal household on Third Street. He took me round there (like taking L'il Abner round to Saturn). At the time they had a regular gig at Slug's Saloon, down deeper toward the River. This would have been c. 1967. Made that scene whenever possible. Now that was a form of testifying I had not witnessed before nor have witnessed since. Formidable. Indescribable.

Sun Ra, live.

larry white said...

The way I meant the gospel choir was better was that it was not male-dominated -- at least in the vocals. I witnessed the Arkestra only once sometime in the '80s when they played up on Astor Place not far from the old Cinémateque where I went to see Harry Smith screen his gems. They really blew the roof off at the end marching up and down the aisles blowing and chanting "next stop Jupiter!" Must have been intense at the much smaller Slug's where I only went once or twice in the late '60s to see Archie Shepp...also the great Leon Thomas. My most-played Sun Ra album was "Visits Planet Earth."

These days I have given in to the relative quiet of this prairie village and mostly reading poetry is my music. Haven't uncovered Lorenzo Thomas's yet but am delighting in several books of yours including the wonderful Dorn bio. I had stopped reading him after Gunslinger I but didn't miss the chance to see him read (followed by LeRoi Jones) at St. Mark's Church once in the mid-'80s, the image of the Gunslinger.

TC said...

Larry, I grew up in the Midwest and accompanied my dad, a traveling salesman, on junkets into Iowa to sell cardboard boxes to John Deere & International Harvester -- so I have memories of that part of the country where the Burma-Shave signs were the Bible and the corn was (or was expected to be) knee high by the Fourth of July. And from this great distance I now envy you that quiet prairie village. All California has done for me is run me over.

larry white said...

I'm a Chicago native too, Tom, born in Englewood Hospital in 1945 but my dad, a native of Springfield, worked in the freight-rate office of the PRR and got transferred to Philly in '46. I grew up in suburbs of that city, DC, and NYC (where Dad's RR passes helped me get downtown in my teens). Ironically I moved out to Iowa twenty years ago, following my brother, and under the cautionary influence of Wendell Berry, to facilitate my recovery after being run over by a motorboat in Peekskill Bay on the Hudson River.
I alternate between enjoying the blessings of village gardening, the occasional communal singing, and hollering a one-man powwow with pains still consequent to the injuries of 1989. I'm grateful for your immense gifts though coming from California most of them are only beginning to reach me now on my sleepy mental cul-de-sac.