Category Archives: Arts & Culture Articles

Good Vibes: Where is the Soul-Inspired Music?

As I suffered through yesterday’s heatwave, with no a/c, I spent some time putting together a musical playlist simply called “Beauty”…partly because I needed to hear something inspiring…and partly because I was trying not to move around too much. With over eleven thousand songs on my hard drive to choose from, I knew I could stay put for a good couple of hours.

I kicked off the set with an old favorite, Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free“. There are certain songs that send chills through you, and this is one them. Another such ditty is “As“, by Stevie Wonder, and these were just a few of the songs I already had in mind when I thought about creating the playlist. I quickly added a few  more classics from legends like Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, Rufus feat. Chaka Khan, The Isley Brothers, Al Green, The Spinners, Norman Connors, and so on…

(please click on the highlighted song or the artist to hear my actual musical selections)

As my playlist quickly filled up with soul singers from way back in the day, I turned my attention to some of the contemporary artists who have continued in the tradition of spirit moving music. Of course I selected songs from some of the more popular members of the group like Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, India.Arie, and Maxwell. But I also had to dig through my “crates” of indie artists  and lesser known singers to pull out some wonderful pieces from Anthony David, Fertile Ground, Eric Roberson, Adriana Evans, Julie Dexter, and more.

Building my playlist even inspired me to do something that, in itself, use to get my blood pumping, but because of my Starving Artist wages, I had abandoned for quite a while. I went online to seek out new music from some of my favorite soul artists and search for rising artists on the indie soul scene. I will admit that I have a lot more digging to do. But from the few items I came across, I was  unable to find anything that stirred my spirit! A lot of what I heard, in my opinion, was canned, uninspired, and lacked innovation. One of my most cherished artists, to my initial delight, put out two albums last year, and both records sounded just like the work she created over a decade ago! She had lost the innovative spirit that she’d displayed on her less well-received sophomore album, that came out about six years prior to her latest recordings.

Have we finally reached a tipping point, again, where soul music has lost it’s soul? That was a major complaint about the music scene of the 80’s and early 90’s when everything went electric, and records were no longer being made to drive fans to live performances. Instead, musicians only seemed to tour to promote their albums. You could feel the soul of the artist being poured out on stage and those emotions were reflected in what they produced in the studio. Part of that died in the era of Reganomics and MTV. Luckily, for my generation, there was a resurgence of that feel and focus of the music in the mid-90’s.

Unfortunately, much like the 80’s clothing that has been brought back to life in contemporary fashion, I’m afraid so shall our contemporary soul music go. There will be plenty of “good” music, I’m sure. But will any of it give me chills?

Good Vibes: The Feeling of Treme

Fellas gettin' down, New Orleans style...

Now, it is a well documented fact that I am a Netflix junkie. And seeing how it serves as my lifeline to All-Things-Television-A-Season-Later, I took the opportunity to watch the first season of a show for which I’d been hearing great things, Treme. Created by David Simon, who, like David E. Kelley and Aaron Sorkin, I’d follow anywhere, Treme takes place in post-Katrina New Orleans, picking up three months after the storm.

David Simon has a proven record of creating compelling dramas filled with richly developed characters and fantastic storytelling…but mostly using Baltimore as the backdrop. I know Baltimore…well, as much as anyone in the Maryland suburbs of the District of Columbia would want to know Baltimore. Mr. Simon did an unparalleled job of capturing the grittiness, the energy, and the heart of parts of the city through some of my all-time favorite television programs: Homicide: Life on the Streets, The Corner, and The Wire.

Treme is no different.

Watching Treme is like sitting on your grandma’s porch, sipping on a glass of iced tea on a hot summer evening, while the entire population of the town drives by, waving to you as they pass. You feel like you know everyone, and everyone knows you. Every time some of that New Orleans-style jazz starts playing, you feel like the band is on the sidewalk, playing specifically for you…not just to entertain you, but to awaken your spirit! Every riff from Antoine Batiste’s trombone or Kermit’s trumpet is like feeling that iced tea sliding down your throat. You want to savor every, single moment!

Treme takes your emotions, balls them up, unravels them, and then balls them up again…and again. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll dance (or at least shimmy in your seat a bit), and most of all, you’ll be enraptured!

Regrettably, I have never visited New Orleans. Because of the way David Simon uses his lensed-paint brush, depicting the broken soul of a city trying to mend itself, I am at least compelled to make that trip.

Good Vibes: The Oprah Touch

Oprah says goodbye (courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter)

For our “Messiah” obsessed culture, Ms. Oprah Winfrey reigned supreme for more than two decades. And like most messiahs, I don’t believe Oprah necessarily wanted to carry the mantle. She simply had a desire to help people, and to impart a message of self-awareness and one’s possibility to change for the better. No, this was not a new message, by any means. Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and many others carried with them the same message. Oprah simply had the most powerful medium in human history to share this message, and she did not squander a single moment of it!

An unfortunate focal point of “Messiah Worship” is the followers desire to be saved by this person. Although I’m sure their are legions of Oprah devotees that would disagree with me, Oprah didn’t save anyone. Instead, Oprah taught you how to save yourself! A true messiah doesn’t speak upon that which they haven’t experienced first hand. Oprah demonstrated, in front of millions, the ability, as well as the struggle, to save one’s self…to transform one’s self. Ms. Winfrey was a notorious yo-yo dieter. And although she has gone through more changes in clothes sizes than Kristie Ally has buckets of chicken (sorry Kristie), at least Oprah tried and continues to do so.

Having your own number one syndicated television program and millions of fans is probably a wonderful sensation, and feeds the ego in ways that are impossible to explain. But I have the feeling Oprah’s greatest sense of accomplishment has come from having the ability to touch people’s lives. If there’s anything we should take away from her example, it’s that true fulfillment occurs while being in the service to others!

Good Vibes: For the Netflix Obsessed…

For a while, I lived in a world all too myself. I was ridiculed, laughed at, made a mockery of…

I stood alone, proudly. NO…I didn’t have cable/satellite television! And no…I didn’t want it! If I needed to watch “regular” TV, I had my bunny-eared antennae connected to my digital converter box, running through my 25 inch, tube television set. I had my old VCR on hand if I ever wanted to take a look at some old VHS favorites sitting on my bookshelf. And most of all, I had my five-disk standard DVD player.

It was the DVD player that made my setup complete, because it allowed me to enjoy my membership to NETFLIX. When I first joined in 2005, I only knew about four people who were receiving their movies by mail through this service. I felt like I was part of an exclusive club. Only we understood the magic that Netflix brought to one’s life! I was no longer doomed to watch the same movies over and over again until I quoted their lines in regular conversation. I finally had access to a plethora of films; movies that dated back to the beginning of Hollywood; pictures that I’ve always heard of but never wasted the money to rent when there was always a new thriller or comedy sitting on the shelf of my local video store.

And Netflix started a new trend in my premium cable-absent, no-time-to-watch-evening-network-programming life: I could rent ENTIRE seasons of long-running and new television series…all at once!! Shows I’ve heard a lot about, but never caught more than a couple of episodes. Now, I could catch up on an entire series and not just come into the middle, “LOST”.

I filled my “queue” up with movies and television series that I’d never seen before, and watched them obsessively!! My new millennium American television cultural awareness multiplied ten-fold. The gap formed through all of those years focusing on my writing, while neglecting to indulge in the “common” man’s activities, was filled. And I loved it!!!

And that little world that was once my own was suddenly shared by almost everyone, it seemed. Since Netflix began streaming its content directly to computers and televisions, alike, their membership has skyrocketed, and the company’s cultural and technological dominance has taken root. I read the other day that nearly 40% of the internet bandwidth used during peak hours of the day is consumed by Netflix watchers.

Obviously, I’m not the only one obsessed!

And although I may not be cheered or held up in reverence for my willingness to take a stand against all of those cable subscribers, I can happily say that I am no longer the butt of everyone’s jokes. Instead, I’m the one laughing…