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(Image Source: Vice) Last week in the Anton La Vey post, I mentioned how Sammy Davis Jr. became a member of The Church of Satan for a while. This struck me as... well, pretty weird. I could se...
From left to right: Greg, Nate, Joe, Justin, Jenny and the judge.
It's been a looooong time since I did a "Some... Stuff" post, but here goes. On Friday, my brother Joe and his wife, Jenny, officially adopted our nephew Justin (our sister Joscelyne's son... she passed away in 2012). It was a long, arduous process, but thank you Lord, it's done. Congratulations, guys!
Chanell, after receiving her diploma....
Well, at least some Indians are... a few weeks ago, I confessed up to thinking as a kid that Indians were Black. And a few of my Indian/Bangladeshi friends gave me e-props for it (what up?!). One of them, Wafi, passed on this HuffPo article by Rita Banerji from 2015 that goes into fascinating detail about how there is indeed a strong genetic link between Indians and Africa:
Growing up in India, I never met or heard about Indians with African lineages. Then in 2005 I watched a dance performance by the Sidi Goma, a group of musicians from the African Indian community, the Siddi, and I was astonished and mesmerised. Since then I've discovered that India's African roots are much older than the Siddis, and are not only evident in numerous other communities, but percolate through direct descent in the blood of at least 600 million Indians....
Lena Horne (Image Source)
Lena Horne- singer, actress, glamour queen of the 1940's- found herself blacklisted in Hollywood, labeled a Communist betrayer of democracy in the early 1950's. It was a particularly spectacular fall, and Horne was determined to not have her career tarnished by smears of Red.
First, some backstory on Horne from PBS' "American Masters: Lena Horne" page:
Born in Brooklyn in 1917, Lena Horne became one of the most popular African American performers of the 1940s and 1950s. At the age of sixteen she was hired as a dancer in the chorus of Harlem’s famous Cotton Club. There she was introduced to the growing community of jazz performers, including Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington. She also met Harold Arlen, who would write her biggest hit, “Stormy Weather.” For the next five years she performed in New York nightclubs, on Broadway, and touring with the Charlie Barnet Orchestra. Singing with Barnet’s primarily white swing band, Horne was one of the first black women to successfully work on both sides of the color line.
(Image Source: Vice)
Last week in the Anton La Vey post, I mentioned how Sammy Davis Jr. became a member of The Church of Satan for a while. This struck me as... well, pretty weird. I could see why the publicity-loving Jayne Mansfield would sign up to be Team Lucifer, but Sammy "Member of Sinatra's Rat Pack" Davis Jr.? He was so... laid-back and... cool. And Jewish. He most definitely had converted to Judaism. So what the what? Let's go to Helen O' Hara at The Telegraph for more:
Sammy Davis Jr, the singer, actor and Rat Pack member whose own philosophy of life drove him to try just about everything that presented itself - women, men, religion, drugs - became involved in 1968. He had noticed a gang of lively young people each with a single red-painted nail at The Factory, a nightclub he co-owned, and was invited to go with them to a party he described as “dungeons, dragons and debauchery”....
Bespectacled Buddy. (Image Source)
Before his shocking death at only 22 in 1959, Buddy Holly managed to make major moves. A native of Lubbock, Texas, Holly began playing the guitar as a kid, and counted a number of Country Music singers as influences. As a teen he began listening to Rhythm & Blues over the radio late at night, and it wasn't long before he combined Country and R&B and began playing the hot new sound of the 1950s: Rock & Roll.
Amazingly, Holly's professional career really only took off when he signed with Decca Records in 1956, meaning he hit the top of the charts, toured the country (and even internationally), and packed theatres in 3 short years (along with his band The Crickets for part of that time).This post is going to focus on one particular set of performances in 1957, when Holly took Harlem. From The Delete Bin:
Rock ‘n’ roll is not a type of music. It was a social phenomenon that threaded together music of many American cultures by the 1950s, and continues to be that today on a global scale. To prove the point of the range of rock ‘n’ roll music of their era, Lubbock Texas band Buddy Holly and The Crickets performed at the Apollo Theatre in August of 1957. Expectations were certainly undercut in the days before the civil rights movement, when audiences and musicians of various races simply did not mix. But, thanks to their historic show at The Apollo, this rule was gloriously broken....
(Master of None, Netflix Screen Grab)
There's a throwback scene at the very top of Master of None's Season 2' episode, "Thanksgiving", during which little Denise, BFF of little Dev, over for the holiday, mentions that she thinks he's Black... like her. Denise's mom gets the convo started by asking Dev if celebrating Thanksgiving is a thing done in the Indian Community (Dev's answer: They eat lunch together and his dad falls asleep watching "The Godfather".)
Denise is confused; what is this "Indian Community" of which her mom speaks? "Dev is Indian," Denise's Momma, played by the ever-youthful Angela Bassett, explains.
"I thought Dev was Black," says a confused Denise....
Anton La Vey and snake. (Image Source)
So far in this series, I covered Jim Jones who believed himself better than God (if there was, in fact, a supreme deity); Father Divine, who claimed to be God incarnate; and Aimee Semple McPherson, who despite being a twice divorced female pastor, held to the usual standards of historic, orthodox Christianity, i.e., The Trinity, Virgin Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, and salvation through the grace of God and faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
But for this entry, I'm going to step away from Christians (or those who started off that way... fun fact, Jones, Divine and McPherson all had early roots in the Methodist church), and over to the other side: Anton La Vey, who founded The Church of Satan in 1966 in California (um, another thing I noticed, is Cali's place of prominence in this series... Jones' Peoples Temple flourished there, and Semple's Angelus Temple was based in L.A.... even Divine's movement had success with satellite communities in the Golden State).
Reading up on La Vey, who died in 1997, is a challenge, because there's so much conflicting information. The man's actual birth name is even up for debate. A number of Christian sites add to this hodgepodge; while attempting to impress on readers the seriousness of La Vey and occultism in general, some of the articles play fast and loose with dates, quotes and the teachings of The Church of Satan. Augh... this does a great disservice to their entire message. If you can't get major tenets of their church right, why would people take anything you have to say to be true?...
Sam Cooke (Image Source)
Earlier this spring, when rapper Kendrick Lamar dropped his critically praised album, "DAMN", it shot up to the top of the Billboard charts. Thing is, it wasn't just a hit in Hip Hop; it was a certified success in the realm of Pop, too. Slate boasted, "Kendrick Lamar’s New No. 1 Proves He’s Not Just Our Greatest Rapper. He’s One of Our Biggest Pop Stars."
Rappers can be Pop Stars, yes. Twenty years ago (!), the recently deceased Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize" spent most of May '97 atop the Hot 100 Charts until being bumped by Hanson's "Mmmbop" (!!). But it wasn't long before Biggie's producer/ B.F.F./ kind-of-a-rapper... kind-of... Bad Boy Records founder- buddy Puff Daddy knocked the blond brothers from number one with "I'll Be Missing You". It was an ode to Biggie that featured fellow Bad Boy artists 112 and Faith Evans, Big's widow.
In other words, Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, a young Black music producer of Urban music, with a roster of Urban acts (Lil' Kim, Mase, The Lox), and a performer who sampled some of the best classics of old school Soul music... became not just a Pop hit, but a definitive Pop star....
Black Panther Bobby Seale with actor Marlon Brando. (Image Source: San Francisco Bay View)
In a San Francisco Bay View film review for the 2015 documentary "Listen to Me Marlon", the story of Marlon Brando's press-making eulogy for slain Black Panther Bobby Hutton is retold:
In the late ‘60s, Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda are credited with helping to bring the Black Panther Party and their politics to a mainstream white audience. In 1967, Brando gave a speech at the funeral of 17-year-old Black Panther Bobby Hutton who was unjustifiably murdered by Oakland police.
Aimee Semple McPherson, the Pentecostal Preacher who could've been a Silent Screen Star. (Image: Foursquare Church)
Aimee Semple McPherson was... so much. A Canadian missionary to China as a young newlywed; a widow with a sickly infant daughter a few years later; an acutely depressed and miserable mom of two and housewife in New England in marriage number two; and a traveling evangelist headlining packed tent revivals for Whites and Blacks, even in the segregated U.S. South. Oh yes, and that was all before she was 27 years old.
Thing is, when Aimee is remembered today (actually, if), she is reduced to the scandal that irrevocably altered her perception in the eyes of the public. She suddenly disappeared from a public beach in California in 1926, and was presumed by thousands to have drowned. After a month, she reappeared just as abruptly in Mexico, with claims that she been abducted by a trio of baddies looking for a steep payday by ransom. She ruined their plans by escaping out a window and walking for hours through the scorching desert. However, this tale was just too tall for many to accept, and alternate theories for Aimee's being M.I.A. abounded, most notably that she had been on a secret rendevous with a married lover.
(Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Image Source: BlackPast.org)
And no, I absolutely do NOT mean last year's controversial Nate Parker flick, "The Birth of a Nation". I'm talking the D.W. Griffith, 1915 film that celebrates the supposed end of the "treachery" that was Reconstruction and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan. From Wikipedia:
The Birth of a Nation (originally called The Clansman) is a 1915 American silent epic drama film directed and co-produced by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish. The screenplay is adapted from the novel and play The Clansman, both by Thomas Dixon Jr. Griffith co-wrote the screenplay (with Frank E. Woods), and co-produced the film (with Harry Aitken). It was released on February 8, 1915.
Joan Crawford in 1959, by Eve Arnold.
I wrote about FX's "Feud: Bette And Joan" during my Lenten series of blog posts. I just watched the finale, "You Mean All This Time We Could've Been Friends?", and I'll admit, I may just have shed a tear or two at Jessica Lange's heartbreaking portrayal of the last days of Joan Crawford.
To be clear, I was far less impressed with "Feud" in it's entirety. While the casting was on point (how fun was Judy Davis as Hedda Hopper?), and the settings were great, the pacing on a whole was off. Some episodes zoomed by ("And The Winner Is..."), while others seemed like slow-moving, unnecessary filler ("More, Or Less"). Also unnecessary was all of the MANY times the audience was explicitly told just how sexist Hollywood was. Hopefully, there will be less telling and more showing, for the next "Feud".
My friend Brittany passes on this excellent piece on Crawford by Angelica Jade Bastien at Roger Ebert.com, published last year:...
(Image Source: NewsWorks)
I first heard the name "Father Divine" as a child from my mom, musing over her grandmother's occasional penchant for following (via correspondence, radio or TV) some rather interesting ministerial leaders. Her mom, my Nana, was no stranger to church hopping. She was a "spiritual seeker" decades before it became a thing. Raised Baptist, Nana left and checked out Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholicism and even Christian Scientists before settling on Holiness Pentecostal. BUT... Father Divine was way too much for her, and scoffed at her mom's interest in a man who would deign himself the Lord God incarnate. She needn't had worried; my great-grandmother's attention quickly flamed out for Reverend Major Jealous Divine.
More recently, I came across Divine's name last month when his widow, Mother Divine, passed away at the age of 91. The NY Times euologized:...
(Image and Caption from "The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones & The Peoples Temple")
I just finished "The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones & The Peoples Temple" by Jeff Guinn and, really, I'm not trying to sound cliched or hackneyed here, but the book is stomach-churning, frightening and by it's end, downright disturbing. This is actually a compliment to Guinn; he vividly captures the horror of the story of Jonestown and the turbulent societal years that led up to it.
Speaking of hackneyed, despite occurring a few years before my birth, I was quite familiar with the Jonestown Massacre. At least, I thought I was. Much like my experience of watching the OJ Simpson documentary "Made in America" last year, what I "kind-of-sort-of-pick-up-from-pop-culture" is most definitely not the same as learning the actual facts of a case. Below are some facts that surprised me most:...
Happy Easter! Sunday was very warm, bright and sunny. Our church's sanctuary was decorated with many lilies and tulips, and the smell of incense wafted through the building. The sun's rays poured through the stained glass windows depicting various scenes of Jesus Christ's earthly ministry. The organ accompaniment, the crisp taste of the consecrated host, followed by the sweetness of the wine- attending Easter services at an Episcopal church is a rhapsody for the senses. Here are a few pictures of our day. I hope you all had a Blessed Resurrection Sunday.
On the April 12th, I underwent the first round of chemotherapy for the stem cell transplant at Northwestern. I was given a rather large, private room, complete with a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline and a large flatscreen TV that I never used on account of the fast hospital WIFI and having my laptop with me.
The nursing staff was nice. Friendly, chatty even, but not too talkative. They knew when to take a bow.
They were quick to provide me with Zofran to combat the nausea from the Cytoxan. Sidebar, but isn't Cytoxan such an appropriately awful name for chemo? Cy-TOX-an? Toxic toxin. Eww. Anyway, they also gave me Mesna and Lasix, which left me having to pee pretty much every ten minutes for a couple of hours each time I was dosed. And of course, every time I went, I was accompanied by my beeping, infusing buddy, large IV stand, pictured below in the background.
Yes, I still maintain my hippie style even at the hospital.
The actual chemo infusion went fine, but the stay overnight was rough. I couldn't sleep, which is totally normal for many hospital patients. But what did me in was an overwhelming, almost to the point of smothering, feeling of loneliness. There was a pull out bed in my room, but it was empty, with K being back at the hotel with Zoe. We spoke via FaceTime... or rather, barely spoke, an awkward silence doing most of the communicating for us both. The day, with it's heavy anxiety, had left us both stunned and stung.
At some point in the wee hours, my night nurse, Maria, checking on me during a pee run, noticed my sadness, and offered up some words of encouragement. Somehow our small talk turned to God, and with a thick Filipino accent, she shared how she prays for each one of her patients at the start of every shift, asking God to help her be an instrument for Him.
Still lacking words, I gave her a hug, me still tethered to old large IV stand, her in crinkly, blue, antiseptic gown and latex gloves.
I got home the following afternoon feeling surprisingly well. I had made several stops after being discharged to buy flowers (white lilies and pink daises) for our hotel room (really more of a studio apartment with a full kitchen) and to pick up the prescriptions I'd need for the next week.
Things were still awkward between me and K, but Zoe greeted me as if we had been separated for months. As the hours passed, I fell into a daze of exhaustion, finally conking out before 8PM. Around 2AM, I awoke to what felt like an actual wave of nausea. For the next 36 hours, that wave would submerge me into some kind of hellishness akin to labor pains, premenstrual cramps, and the most severe stomach virus ever... combined. I'd pop a Zofran, which, as far as life preservers go in an ocean of nausea, kept me afloat, but most certainly didn't save me. Food was a step away from gross. I wasn't even too keen at looking at it.
The only thing I wanted to see was my family. In fact, from my groggy, soggy chemo haze, laying in bed, I set my gaze on K and Z. It didn't take long for them both to question my stares. I mumbled out how much I missed them. Zoe shrugged, laughed and went back to watching TV. K met my stare with a look that crossed incredulity with being weirded out.
Again, I felt stung.
I had been warned that this process would leave me physically depleted. There were no side effect warnings for my emotions.
A young Norma Jean Baker in the early 1940s. Many a Penny Pentecostal would still be rocking this same suit style well into the Carter Administration. (Source)
My latest Audible book streaming through my headphones is "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography" by Donald Spoto and narrated by Anna Fields.
Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by stars who, despite talent, money, fame and beauty, were downed by the suffocating weight of their own inner psyches. Perhaps it was a weird fascination for an elementary school student, but it was there, and only grew as I got older.
If I had to guess as to why, it probably had something to do with my mother's severe depression. She was (and is) my first exemplar of femininity and beauty. She was a star in my mind, gifted with a lovely soprano singing voice that at times verged on the operatic. She drew, painted, sketched and did calligraphy. She made music and art. That was beauty. She was beauty.
She was also acutely depressed, and at other times, quite anxious. Before giving birth to any of us kids, she had to be hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown that left her hearing an array of voices that so frightened her she stayed in bed with fits of tears and screams interspersed with prayers to God for relief.
I learned of this episode in my mom's life fifteen years later, when I was 8, from her mom during a summer visit. It scared me. So horribly scared me that I had reoccurring nightmares about it for years. It also launched in me a desire to understand why. Why had Mommy, with a speaking voice not too different from the soft, childlike one Marilyn affected in many of her films, lose it? And how did she regain it, enough to have us three and become the neighborhood Kool Aid mom? Would she crack again? Would I, one day, also suffer a similar fate?
I read about Dorothy Dandridge, Judy Garland, and of course, the patron saint of the troubled star, Marilyn Monroe. There was a lot to sift through about the Blonde Bombshell- the affairs, the failed marriages, the glamour and the barbiturates. Beyond that, there was a very sad childhood with an absentee mother, an unknown father and foster homes.
While listening to "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography" this week, I learned something about her early years with her first foster family that I hadn't known before. Something that my mom had in common... something that I had in common.
We all spent some of our most formative years belonging to Pentecostal Holiness churches.
Let me pause here to say, most definitively, that growing up a Penny Pentecostal is NOT a one way ticket to Crazytown. Millions of people have and are fine.
This information sticks out to me because it's like I found another former member of the club that shaped me so- my childhood, adolescence and even on into adulthood. What makes this information ever more startling is how Marilyn came to embody so much that many Pentecostals stridently abhor- the makeup, the cut and dyed platinum coiffure, the tight clothes, and all that jewelry. All that unGodly glamour in a shapely 5'5 package.
Over in the Entertainment section of "How Stuff Works", Susan Doll recounts: "
Norma Jeane's mother, who most often used the name Gladys Baker, placed the infant Norma Jeane in the care of Ida and Wayne Bolender of Hawthorne, California. Life had not been particularly kind to Gladys. She had had two children -- Berniece and Hermitt Jack -- by her first marriage to Jack Baker, but he had taken the children away from her and moved to Kentucky prior to her marriage to Edward Mortenson. Supposedly, Baker had left a note for Gladys that read, "I have taken the children, and you will never see them again." The absence of her first two children caused Gladys great pain, and her inability to take care of Norma Jeane added to that heartache and stress. Gladys's family had a history of mental instability. Both of her parents, Otis and Delia Monroe, finished out their lives in mental institutions, and Gladys's brother, Marion Monroe, suffered from a problem diagnosed at the time as paranoid schizophrenia. Gladys battled demons of her own and spent much of her adult life in institutions. ... Ironically, perhaps, when Gladys boarded out Norma Jeane to the Bolenders 12 days after the baby's birth, it was because of financial difficulties -- not mental ones. Gladys went back to work at Consolidated Film Industries, paying the Bolenders five dollars per week to look after her baby. Each Saturday, Gladys would take the trolley to Hawthorne to visit Norma Jeane, who remembered Gladys as "the lady with red hair" rather than as her mother. A devoutly religious couple, Wayne and Ida Bolender lived a comfortable existence in Hawthorne, a less-than-fashionable suburb of Los Angeles. Wayne worked as a postal carrier and was fortunate enough to remain employed throughout the Depression. In his spare time, he printed religious tracts.Here comes that Old Time Religion...:
Marilyn would later remember the couple's devotion to their religion as one that approached zealousness. She claimed that as the young Norma Jeane, she had to promise never to drink or swear, she had to attend church several times a week, and she was repeatedly told that she was going to Hell. Norma Jeane quickly learned to hide from the Bolenders if she wanted to sing, dance, or act out a fantasy life "more interesting than the one I had." Though Norma Jeane regularly attended church with the Bolenders, she was taken by her grandmother, Della Monroe, to the Foursquare Gospel Church to be baptized by the flamboyant evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Della, a devout follower of Sister Aimee, had her granddaughter christened "Norma Jeane Baker."By the way, if you're unfamiliar with Aimee Semple McPherson, who had an altogether fascinating career that mixed Hollywood theatrics with preaching the Good News, check out this "American Masters" episode:
Spoto takes great pains to link Marilyn's early upbringing in holiness- which demanded a certain form of outward perfection to exemplify supposed inner godliness- to her later years spent chasing a level of flawlessness that fed her anxiety and depression. Of course, only Marilyn knew if that was true, but it's an interesting thought to ponder.
"Breast cancer and chemotherapy
Took away her crownin' glory
She promised God if she was to survive
She would enjoy every day of her life, oh
On national television
Her diamond eyes are sparkling
Bald-headed like a full moon shining
Singing out to the whole wide world like, hey"
- India Arie, "Brown Skin"
On Wednesday evening, I walked into the bathroom, slid open the medicine cabinet, pulled out a small pair of scissors and paused for about five seconds. I took a deep breathe and cut a large hunk of my hair off on the left side. In less than ten minutes, the sink was full of fro. I was done.
I had decided a long time ago that I'd rather get a hair cut before receiving the chemotherapy that is part of the complex Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation. The staff at Northwestern Memorial let me know from the jump that I'd lose all my hair. Unlike with many chemo treatments prescribed for patients with cancer, the use of chemo here will be so intense that the hair wouldn't just thin. I'd look like a honey brown cue ball within two months. No ifs, ands or combovers.Not wanting to resemble a 2016 female version of George Jefferson when clumps of my afro begin to drop out, I planned to go to a salon and get my first real, professional haircut since college.
But plans have been failed aspirations lately, and with less than a week before I'd be back in Chicago to finally get the transplant, and not wanting to spend any additional cash on strands that wouldn't be around to greet the Summer Solstice in a couple of months anyway, I got my Edward Scissorhands on.
Zoe doesn't like it. Not in the least. She wants my "old, better hair style back". K... well, he's said he likes it, but only did so after I asked him straight out. So, yeah.
I like that I haven't had to do it since I washed and styled it that first night. But I feel a little... I'm not even sure. Unfazed? I thought I might've gotten a bit moved by it all. I now have the shortest hair in the house.
My husband, with his shaved, two-strand twisted fauxhawk, has longer hair than me. And still, my emotional reaction could be depicted like this emoji.
I've thought about it and I truly believe going natural while pregnant with Zoe pretty much took the sting out of this. I heard some of the nastiest comments when I let go of the relaxed locks. My appearance, value, sexual appeal and femininity were all questioned and even ruled quite lacking based on the texture of my hair. Why worry now when I barely have any? In those people's eyes, I've been ugly.
I cried then, but their taunts toughened me. There I was, in my last year of my 20's FINALLY getting it. My value is not in my appearance, and certainly not in the capricious opinions of others on said appearance. As India Arie sings, I am not my hair. I'm not my skin, either. I learned that lesson quite well as I got scar after scar from IVIG treatments, medicines, and surgically implanted ports.
I don't have breast cancer, but like the woman in India's song, I've done my praying and have decided to enjoy each day, "Bald-headed like a full moon shining".