Featured

The Last Day of the Great Laibon [a story]

by Michael Robbins

This story is dedicated to my father.

 

Kiana had been in the wilderness alone. It was against protocol, and exactly what she needed. That’s what she told herself anyway. Lions came to nuzzle her belly, rumbling softly, perhaps due to that acute animal instinct for knowing when something was wrong. Usually they scattered when the Old man came around.

The first time was on the first day of the month, on the first hour past noon. Of course it was. He popped around a tree on those sand scattered Kalahari plains and waved. Kiana started, then bent over the hand-held UV monitor in both her mitts and muttered, “It’s not real.”

800px-Vachellia_erioloba_-_Camel_thorn

On the second day, at the appointed hour, he climbed into the sun-screened Jeep with her with a cheery “Hello!” Her grip tightened knuckle white on the steering wheel. “You’re not real,” she repeated, almost as a mantra. Her bright green eyes shunted her off onto a vision, flashing to the live-feed six weeks past, to the same man, now more emaciated than he’d been at their last contact, seemingly plied with ever-more tubes in every vein. She blinked, jerking to the side, but the man was gone, at least for now.

Twice more she saw him, at a distance paralleling her as she did her job, collecting genetic samples from the indigenous wildlife. It wasn’t normally dangerous work, but it was always better to work in teams. Especially on the Kalahari with its hundred-degree-plus temperatures, sparse grasses, pale sand pans and gnarled camel thorn trees clawing infrequently at the sky. On the sixth day, it almost cost her.

Kiana had sampled some weaver birds but hadn’t been paying enough attention to her surroundings. Which was how the cheetah had stumbled into her. They literally tripped over one another. Luckily Kiana rolled one way and the spotted cheetah the other. Her heart hammered at her ribs with startling ferocity. That was nothing compared to the snarl issuing from the big cat.

Its eyes were cloudy. It must have an older cat who stumbled carelessly into the noonday sun and been blinded. With all the other adverse effects of climate change it couldn’t have been helped. This was not helping her at all, though. Her limbs were still trying not to move. She didn’t seem to have much control over her shrill breathing, something the cheetah’s ears tuned in on with terrible accuracy.

That’s when the Old man stepped around her, waving both long arms and yelling, startling the cat enough that she could get off a shot with her tranq pistol. It took a couple of shots to flatten the agitated beast, but it was done.

The pistol thunked to the brittle yellow grass as the Old Man swung back to her with that familiar grin. “That’s why you shouldn’t be out here by yourself,” he said. “Baby? What’s wrong?”

“…please stop,” she whispered, her overflowing eyes burning. “…god, please stop…you can’t be here…”

“I don’t see why not. The cheetah seemed to agree with me.”

“B-but, Poppa, you’re gone. You’re…y-y-you’re…”

It all came spilling out, all the tears dammed for the past six weeks, all the suppressed emotions, stealing her breath, choking her. The Old Man returned from the truck with a paper bag for her to breath into. He held onto her with soothing words as she hunched over herself, hyperventilating for how long, an hour? All she was able to choke out in all that time was, “forgive me.”

“What for, baby?” he asked.

“I-I wasn’t there, Poppa. I-I didn’t come for the end.”

“The cancer was pretty far along this time. There wasn’t a lot anyone could do.”

As he’d done when she was younger and brought home every stray dog in the neighborhood, teary-eyed, he now dabbed her cheeks with a kerchief that was the same safari-brown as his sleeveless shirt and shorts. “It’s okay, Baby. Say what’s really bothering you.”

She could look at him now, into the smiling eyes that had raised her, the face now smoothed of all aches. “Is heaven real?” she asked.

“It’s better than heaven,” he shrugged. “Go on. You can do it.”

“I can’t.”

“What, the little girl who frolicked with lions? That’s not who I remember.”

“That’s just it. I didn’t want to remember you like that, all wasted away. I wanted you to be strong in my memory. I wanted to remember all the fishing trips with you and Momma. I wanted to remember that big hug you gave me when I came home from my mission.”

“You can still have that. Nothing wrong with that.”

“But I-I’m not ready.”

“I wasn’t. Nobody’s ever ready. That’s okay. I have faith in you, baby.”

“Does Momma hate me, for not coming home?”

He blew a raspberry out the side of his mouth. “Never. ‘Worried’ is more like it. You should give her a call.” Together they stood. “I’ve been allowed this one visit. I’ve probably overstayed it already. Why don’t I help you load that cat in the cage before I get back?”

This was done in no time at all. As she slammed the metal cage shut in the back of the Jeep, he tipped her chin up, chucking her on it. “I’m proud of you, baby.”

She ducked her head with a smile. A stiff breeze whipped through her bones and he was gone. In the depression in the grass where he’d stood, there remained a small red book of Psalms, the one he’d always carried with him for forty years. The one Momma swore she’d buried with him.

Interview Extract

Jamai Independent Woman Metoo GIF-downsized_large

BLOG–You’ve consistently refused being termed a ‘mutant’, ‘psychic’, ‘medium’ et al. May I ask why?

JAMAI–Because they’re just labels. They’re another way of saying ‘you’re a freak, you don’t belong.’

B–I take it you’re not fond of labels.

J–I despise them. It’s just another way of dividing people, of keeping them down. Listen, my husband’s uncle once told me that words have a profound effect on our social relations. When I was young I was stupid enough to let myself be blinkered by these insults.

B–I’d never call you stupid.

J–Appreciated. I’ll give you an example of what I mean from your own day and age. The great Miles Davis was invited to participate in a charity record–“Sun City”, and the umbrella title for the group was Artists United Against Apartheid. The project was spearheaded by Steven Van Zandt. Miles’ part was to be edited into a jazz track, but at some point in his performance, Miles started muttering, “you can’t go in there, you’re the wrong color.”

B–“The Struggle Continues,” that was the track.

J–Good. There’s hope for you yet. Well, Miles’ rap was entirely spontaneous, but so truthful, that they built that whole track around it.

B–I guess what you’re saying is today, right now, you’re comfortable with who you are?

J–Why shouldn’t I be? I tried to fit in, to be like ‘everybody else’. But the truth is, people or bosses or your leaders will never be satisfied no matter how much you try to fit in. Why should I change to satisfy them? Why make myself uncomfortable with myself? I’m a person and I’m different. So what? I don’t have to prove anything to anyone but myself. And neither do you. If who you are isn’t good enough form “them”, whoever “they” are, they can get stuffed!

(shared laughter)

FATHERS & DAUGHTERS, the second book in the BUTTERFLY & SERPENT book series, is now out on http://www.amazon.com as a paperback & Kindle.

B & S new cover      f & d cover

Golden Messiah: Adam Warlock Phase One

B-Marvel Pre. 1 cover  B-Marvel_Premiere 2

I encountered Adam Warlock through the usual venues, i.e. reading comic books after my brothers were done with them. I was too young to have any set parameters; my mind was wide open to the possibilities. The cynicism that characterized the rest of the 1970s wouldn’t set in for another three years.

Apparently I was more taken with Warlock and the original Captain Marvel [Marvel Comics version, not Shazam!] than most readers, considering that he couldn’t seem to hold a comic down. I’d read Warlock’s debut story in a Fantastic Four reprint magazine a couple years after his book ended abruptly in 1973. Back then he was a product of genetic experimentation known only as Him

A-Fantastic Four 66

I caught the first two issues of that plotline, which brings up another pet peeve of mine–I couldn’t stop missing the FINAL issue in a comic book’s multi-part arc. I reach the cliffhanger, and somehow the following month, I always missed the final part. If I wanted to know how a story arc wrapped, I’d have to gather that from the recap they helpfully provided in the following issue. Either that or I’d have to wait YEARS to track that comic book down at a used book-store.

MarvelPremiere14

What I’ll call Phase One of Adam Warlock’s comic book life was an allegorical retelling of the legend of the Son of God, where the newly christened Adam was cast as the golden-skinned  action-hero Jesus who steps forward to rid a new world, a Counter-Earth of its fallen angel, the Man-Beast and his horde of New Men, beast-men really. The role of the Father was taken by the High Evolutionary, once a man like us but elevated by scientific means unto godhood.

Don’t worry, I have no intention of proselytizing anyone. The Jesus-Father connections are more tenuous than at first appears. If I may, I always saw Jesus as self-assured and unwavering in his purpose, whereas Adam Warlock has always been uncertain of his role and plagued by guilt over the deaths brought to his followers over his crusade.

Reading Warlock comics was often an exercise in frustration since he never seemed to wrap his own storyline up in his own magazine! We were left dangling at the end of Issue #8 when Adam and Astrella Carpenter confronted the Man-Beast revealed as the President in the White House. That chapter would have to be taken up a year later in the Hulk comics, which I was reading religiously [ironically enough] at that time.

C-Hulk 177C-hulk178

I see now as an adult that it should have been no surprise the Man-Beast took the form of U.S. President Rex Carpenter, a charismatic Kennedyesque figure who persuaded millions to follow him down his dark path. That resurrects a chilling thought, from a lecture I attended by Dune author Frank Herbert. He warned us that Kennedy was the most dangerous President of the 20th Century because we were willing to do anything he asked. It’s likely JFK would have pulled us out of Vietnam had he lived. But people in this country have blindly followed lesser men into Middle Eastern debacles, and let’s not forget our more recent paranoid delusions over immigration, fears fanned by an even less informed mind.

I was too young to appreciate the script’s Savior underpinnings, nor was I too fond of the late Gil Kane’s art style, either. I was used to the blockbuster panels by Jack Kirby. I’m able to appreciate Kane’s naturalistic style; his heroes were muscular without being musclebound. And when the stone actually melts under Warlock’s hand beams, it’s like they are really oozing life. And God, the expressions! He was a master at capturing anger, heartbreak and the awe in each character’s face.

Gil_Kane Artist Gil Kane, 1926-2000

The Savior parallels would be most pronounced in the three-part arc in the pages of the Incredible Hulk in 1974. This would close Phase One of Adam’s life. There is the Last Supper scene, where Hulk is cast as both Judas and Peter. A public trial would follow, and then came that heart-rending crucifixion and Adam’s cry to the High Evolutionary, “Why have you abandoned me?”

hulk 177 cruci

We depart briefly from the Biblical narrative when Hulk leads a revolt to indeed overthrow the evil kingdom on Counter-Earth. It only takes two days for Adam Warlock to be resurrected, and to banish the Man-Beast after he devolves him back to his wolf form. In a final Biblical allusion, Adam ascends into space with a final quote from Ray Bradbury: “Are there mangers on far worlds?” This has a profound effect on a sad Hulk, but not to worry. By the very next issue he’d be back to his raging self again.

hulk178_pg32

file-20180426-175077-1jnckp1One may have noticed my mind has been on apartheid in recent blogs. One might wonder why I’m spending so much time reflecting on a regime that’s quite clearly gone. Primarily I suppose it’s because it’s an object lesson. Change is possible when the People are so fired up that the politicians have no choice, literally none, but to do the right thing.

Honestly I never expected there would be a peaceful transition in South Africa. After five decades of oppression and resistance, I fully expected apartheid could only end in civil war, and I’m probably not the only person to think so. This is one instance where I’m glad to have been proven absolutely conclusively wrong.

But there is a better reason for me to focus on that particular dead issue. Apartheid by another name was a very real institution in post-Civil War America. We know it here as Jim Crow but it was the same thing, the exact same thing. Segregation was imposed by law across the Southern United States and sanctioned by foul Supreme Court decisions to as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Lynchings were a shameful legacy of those hundred years before Martin Luther King Jr. and the entire Civil rights movement stood up and said “That’s enough. We’ve waited for our rights long enough. We’ve waited for you to respect our dignity long enough.”

039why-did-they-hate-us039-explaining-the-new-lynching-memorial-to-my-sons-featured-photoWe are facing a moral crisis whereby the Trump administration is bound and determined to wind the clock back to the 19th Century, some never-never land of white rule that doesn’t deserve to exist. Plainly with the present conservative majority on the Supreme Court we can’t count on either their good will or their good sense for the next couple of generations.

This is a time we have to stand, not just on the national stage but in our everyday life. Its tie to put aside all labels–male, female, LGBT, black and white–and treat everyone exactly the way you’d expect to be treated, with respect, dignity and plain ol’ common courtesy. Maybe it’s naïve to dream of this but what the hell, till something better comes along I’m happy to be naïve.

Artists United Against Apartheid- “The Struggle Continues”

miles davis montreal jazz fest 1985.jpg2

Miles Davis is a difficult man to like. He was parsimonious when it came to sharing credit on his compositions and abusive to his wives. Worse, he felt obliged to brag about it. But he was also a jazz genius, a would-be boxer with sickle-cell anemia and, late in his life, diabetes; a man who’d storm onstage for a concert against his doctor’s advice while he was fighting pneumonia.

That being said, civil rights did seem to be something he cared for. In 1985 South Africa was very much on Little Steven Van Zandt’s mind, particularly the resort Sun City, which was planted right in the middle of one of the desolate bantustans imposed on the native South Africans by white Afrikaners. Ronald Reagan’s policy as President was a thing called ‘constructive engagement’, a double-speak term that amounted to encouraging business investment in South Africa in the hope that this would change their racist policies.

little steven

Little Steven had a different vision. Recall that this was a time in the 1980’s when large charitable events involving large collectives of pop artists had briefly become the norm. Farm Aid was just around the corner in the U.S., and continues to this day. Live Aid, “We Are the World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” had all brought awareness of the drought and starvation of Ethiopians. But the pop response to the Ethiopian crisis was largely apolitical; it didn’t address the conflicts that had brought this famine on the Ethiopian people.

The Sun City project was different. It had to be. If there was to be change, you had to address the root of the problem, which was the government-sanctioned program of Apartheid. Like all these projects Sun City did not lack for enthusiastic volunteers. And from the first day, producer Arthur Baker and Little Steven thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wild to get Miles Davis to play trumpet over this drum log”, on the demo record?

As it happened, Miles’ sound man had also been Little Steven’s sound man on one of his tours. the job of contacting Miles fell to Danny Schecter, a journalist who early on became involved with the project. Now honestly, Miles Davis was a hard man to get ahold of, but when Schecter made the call, the immediate response was, “When do you want me there?”

On the big day Miles laid down his part over two takes, which would soon form the bedrock of what would become the jazz session for the album. Towards the end of the first take, he did the kind of unexpected thing he was famous for. In a rasp barely above a whisper he muttered, “You can’t go in there, you’re the wrong color.”

This was not planned; it was all just improvisation on Miles’ part. Baker and the others thought at first he was talking about the cameraman who was there to film all the project’s sessions. They soon realized Miles was talking about South Africa, so baker said, “Keep those tapes rolling.”

At this point recording technology had advanced to the point where it wasn’t really necessary for every artist to perform their part in the studio all at the same time. It was possible to record all the different parts and mix them all together later into a coherent track. That’s how “The Struggle Continues” came together, and how through electronic means the Miles Davis Quintet was reunited.

Miles+Davis quintet 1966

Keyboardist Herbie Hancock had cut his teeth with Miles’ Quintet in the mid-60’s and had made quite a name for himself as the leader of his own group the Headhunters in 1973. More recently he’d experimented with dance and funk, most especially with his 1983 single “Rockit”. He would be the first artist to play behind Miles’ track, and he would blow everyone’s mind with the seven-minute solo he laid down.

One problem. Little Steven knew Hancock’s work was great, but it wasn’t going to work with Miles’ stuff. Luck was with them. In a few weeks Hancock would be performing at the Village Gate in New York with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, the other members of Miles’ classic Quintet. The Sun City crew assembled at M & I Recording, where Williams had been recording his latest album, there to overdub their parts onto Miles’.

Keyboardist Richard Scher and Nigerian drummer Sonny Okusons had already contributed their parts. A friend of Little Steven had brought his three-year-old son to these sessions. As the musicians were leaving Steven asked, “Well, Sam, what do you think?”

“It needs some guitar,” Sam replied.

Out of the mouth of babes. The next day the great Stanley Jordan added his guitar.

Now on to the track itself. I’m not a jazz expert, I can only give you my best with my pallid ear, but here goes. A slow fade in on the horn brings you to those furious rolling drums. The trumpet sounds an urgent call to action. Two minutes in comes Herbie Hancock’s part, and he’s on fire. Underlying the entire track is a solid bass by Carter and then at four 1/2 minutes we hear Miles’ accusation: “You can’t go in there, you’re the wrong color.”

Sun City was released on December 7, 1985. I’d just like to note that Nelson Mandela was released from prison less than five years later on February 11, 1990. Apartheid died a well-deserved death by 1994. I’d like to think Little Steven and all the artist involved in Sun City did their part to make that happen.

 

“The scariest encounter of the Sun City project had to be Miles Davis,” recalled Steven Van Zandt. “I wrote the intro for him to play… He’s just not friendly. He makes Lou Reed look like a pussycat… He came in, sat down and I played him the ‘Silver and Gold’ tape. He’s sitting next to me, and he talks real low and slow, and right in my ear: ‘Hey man, do you want me to fucking play or what?’ So he does his take, and I asked him to redo it with the mute on. I went and reassembled his old quintetwith Herbie HancockRon Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums.”[2]

[wikipedia entry, Sun City]

R-5074800-1496952871-5448.jpeg

Let Me See Your I.D.–Artists United Against Apartheid, 1985

artists-united-against-apartheid-let-me-see-your-id-street-mix-1986It isn’t often that a rap song changes my perspective. I’m admittedly not a great fan of rap music; if I want to be yelled at, I have people I work with for that. On the other hand it does throw in some off-the-wall references to kung fu, literary figures and historical events we don’t want to think about.

In 1985 Little Steven Van Zandt drew together a unique collective of musicians from across the spectrum, for the purpose of protesting against the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa. The project Sun City drew its name from the glittering resort in the so-called ‘homeland’ of Bophuthatswana, which was meant to showcase the ‘greatness’ of white South Africa, and which had already attracted prominent pop artists to perform at their casino.

A-143887-1110649709.jpg

Perhaps today it can be seen as an artifact of the late ’80’s; or, it may have a frightening relevance considering the exposure of the filthy underbelly of white supremacy here in our United States. What I referenced in the beginning of this piece was Sun City‘s rap track, “Let Me See Your I.D.”, meaning the passbooks all black South Africans over the age of 16 were required to carry on them at all times. If it was not produced on demand, black persons would be jailed and fined. As of 1985,13 million people had been jailed for pass law offenses.

It begins with a concept so obvious that it shouldn’t be so mind-blowing. Grandmaster Melle Mel chants, “Everybody uses black & white/ to draw the line between wrong & right/ but If you use your eyes you can really see”, that ‘white’ is really pink while skin that’s ‘black’ is really brown. Think about that; your skin is not white. Peach at best, maybe. And black, well, that covers a range of shades, none of them pure black.

Poet and novelist Gil Scott-Heron provides a running narration as subtle as the raps are not. “The word casualties comes up a lot…people are talking about isms…” But people are dying, he says, and there’s nothing casual about that. “Let Me See Your I.D.” showcases the talents of Grandmaster Melle Mel, Scorpio from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Peter Wolf, Kurtis Blow, the Fat Boys, Gil Scott-Heron, Sonny Okosuns, The Malopoets form South Africa. Jimmy Cliff, Duke Bootee and more.

Sadly this track is unavailable for download and I could only find it online as a vinyl single. If you want to hear it today, ironically enough you’d have to find an unauthorized upload on YouTube and break the law.

sun city list  images s afr boycott

 

This State Rep Does Not Speak For Me, Thank God

MattShea1https://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2018/11/gop-lawmaker-matt-shea-releases-christian-manifesto-calling-for-biblical-law/?fbclid=IwAR3YSbK6_HOLOO9lHD3Q_neZEfkuONmyMITUtqUIa4KhiOLJv5Ke3wQbfB8

‘Do Not Yield’. First of all, I’m an American & you don’t get to tell me what to do. EVER.

And if by Bible Law you mean the Ten Commandments, 99.98785 percent of you Nazi jerks don’t follow it already, so why should I follow you?

ten-commandments-full_1024x1024

Lastly, the Christian ideal presented by Jesus is encapsulated in one simple phrase: “Love thy neighbor as I have loved you.” Might want to try that sometime.

IMG_20180221_190016_868

I was a member of my church for 25 years and as far as I know I’m still an Elder there. Don’t throw your false Christian mumbo-jumbo down if you don’t want to be taken down.