There are 30 more days left in what can only be described as one terribly taxing year. History will remember 2020 as one of the worse 8,000 hours in modern memory. I, never being one to spout pure hyperbole, thought it would be befitting to end the year by getting the perspective from one the world’s greatest pontificators. And for this truly Honorable special guest, we decided to wheel out the welcome wagon and sit down in one of the very best gospel dens in America..., Moods Music. Moods is a cozy, cultural, comforting corner spot located in the tie-breaking state of Georgia.
This very quaint music burrow is sliced in a pizza-sized section of Atlanta called Little Five Points. Moods Music is the harmonious centerpiece of a 2.5 mile-long, commercial retail strip in a distinctive district of East Atlanta. Natives and tourists alike scurry in and out of the exclusive music enclave hoping to re-discover their inner soul. In this quest for love and understanding, I couldn’t think of a better place to unpack the burning bumper sticker quandary…., What Would Jesus Do? Well, here at Ghetto Proverbs we decided to go straight to The Source.
So without further adjournment, GP would like to offer a warm welcome to our clandestine guest Himself…,. Mr. Jesus of Nazareth.
GP: Wow…, I must admit, I’m a little nervous.
JC: A little??? I’ve witnessed better ideas in a fortune cookie!!
GP:(smiling) I’ve always thought of your humor as vastly underrated.
JC: I hear you have many theoretical thoughts about who I am.
GP: Well, I have less of a concern about who you are and far more concerns with who your fan base thinks you are.
JC: Hopefully they will feel the same way about you when this is over.
GP: I guess we’ll find out in a few hours, huh? Well, let’s get started. I am pretty even-tempered but for some reason this seems a bit different. I don’t know….
JC: (interrupting) Assuming your intentions are pure that’s all the confirmation you need, no matter how you’ll be judged in the end.
GP: Thank you, J-Hova. Can I call you J-Hova?
GP: (swallowing at my failed attempt at humor) So it’s been a minute since you've been here, huh?
JC: Well, that depends… Many of my followers will tell you that I have never left them!GP: Yeah, but those same people will tell me that your birthday is in 24 days too!
JC: So we're just going to dive right in? No warming in the bullpen or nothing, huh?
GP: You know me better than most, therefore you shouldn’t be surprised. (continuing...) Many of your followers would say it would be nice to have a more tangible example of your presence. I mean with this being one of the worse years in recent memory, even your most loyal followers would like to witness a physical acknowledgement from you, wouldn’t you agree?
GP: Well, your followers seem like a great place to start.
JC: You keep saying “Your Followers” as if you are excluding yourself?
GP: (smiling at the obviousness of His checkmate-like posture) Most of your followers are in the Western Hemisphere. Contrarily, people that question your physical existence seem to reside anywhere BUT the West. Do you think that’s a coincidence?
JC: There is no such thing as coincidences.
GP: What about the Knicks winning the first NBA Draft Lottery?
GP: Noted. But if most of the Western Hemisphere believe that you and your Father are the ultimate deities and everyone outside of this tainted land feels as though your teachings are more allegoric in nature — that cannot be a fluke, right?
JC: What do you think?
GP: I think you aren’t used to the interview protocols!
JC: That’s pretty witty for someone with such limited, sacred schooling.
GP: Well to quote Mark Twain: “One shouldn’t let schooling interfere with a good education.”
JC: Not a bad quote coming from Missouri’s second most famous resident.
GP: Who is the first?
JC: Miles Davis.
GP: (kool-aid sized grin) So you are a music fan, huh?
JC: Music is the Key to Life.
GP: It’s like you are reading my mind (thinking..., spoiler alert).
JC: Really... (gazing at the sun dwindling, as if He has somewhere more important to be)
GP: I know you are busy, so I want to get your insights on some rapid-fire questions…. if you pardon pun?
JC: (shaking His head) You may want to use this valuable time more wisely and less foolishly.
GP: Yeah, I know, sorry, JC. Let me ask you this: Why was it necessary to write a New Testament? That would be like someone re-making Nas’ Illmatic.
JC: Didn’t Elzhi do that?
GP: Wow…, very impressive!!
JC: As for your New Testament question, what do your peers think?
GP: That depends on who you ask? Many feel like the New Testament has a single, more consistent theological focus. They feel as though your remixed “direction” in the New Testament seems more tangible or much easier to honor or obey than the laws in the Old Testament. In fact the Old Testament consists of several different theologies and dare I say many contradictions?
JC: (curious look with eye brows raising) Care to give Thou an example of those contradictions?
GP: Hmmm..., Well, I may have to…."take off my coat/clear my throat…”
JC: (blank stare) Rakim? Really. (shaking His head).
GP: Okay, Well…. according to Deuteronomy, I can’t remember where..., God commands His people to swear in His name. Then, later in the same chapter you said: “To swear by anything is a form of evil.” It’s like the whole east coast/west coast beef heating up again.
JC: I know you are nervous and who trying to implement an idea best found in a fortune cookie wouldn’t be? But you should temper your silliness. And to answer your question, that quote came from Deuteronomy 6-13, perhaps you should read it again.
GP: Noted. (continuing, even though we both kinda knew I really wasn’t going to adhere to JC’s "less humor" suggestion) In the Old Testament, divorce was acceptable, as was polygamy. However in the New Testament, neither are acceptable. Isn’t that a blatant inconsistency?
JC: It is, but the better question would be..., how does that make you feel?
GP: It feels like the textbook definition of a contradiction. Which I am sure the First Council of Nicaea didn’t give enough credence to. They just assumed people would simply take their word (so to speak). The First Council of Nicea were lucky that most of your followers truly have no idea who they are. And, the followers that do know who they are were trained not to question.
JC: As a journalist, and I am using the term loosely here, you should understand that the written word can lose its origin over time. And, the more often The Word is revised or translated, the further from the original message it will be. It’s up to the reader’s understanding to decipher the difference and draw their own conclusions.
GP: That sounds like a pretty convenient conclusion—and a dangerous one too. I mean, what if the people don’t understand the differences? It’s like this last election here in America with Joe Biden and Donald Trump. We have people that think voting for the lesser of two evils is a productive way to govern a society. And most of the voters don’t even know what the 3 branches of government are. How can you hold elected officials accountable if you don’t even know how the system works? How can you understand the words in the Bible if you don’t understand it's origin?
JC: (staring) So is THAT your question?
GP: Well, sort of. My actual question is: What if the people, your followers in particular, feel like questioning anything in the Bible is a form of disrespect to you? How can they ever understand your Ultimate plan? What if there are metaphors and they are taking the words literally? What if a scientist reads the Bible, how should they interpret these parables?
JC: Everyone, including you, should take great comfort in knowing that curiosity is the foundation of wisdom.
GP: That would make a cool t-shirt!
JC: (shaking his head in disbelievement at the continued silliness)
GP: Okay.., I have another serious question.
JC: Finally. It seems as though you are finding
your footing James-Ball-of-Wind.
GP: That ’s funny, J-Hova. Let me ask you this: How do you explain to people that it is counterintuitive to adopt the teachings of the very people that enslaved you?
JC: (smiling) That footing didn’t last long, huh? Can you be more specific?
GP: Sure. Why would anyone’s faith be tied to a nation that is run by the oppressive slave owners that robbed the people of their name, their culture and history? Why would people trust the word of the oppressor that raped and killed the women and children and castrated the men that stood up for them? Why would anyone turn to their teachings for their salvation? That seems ludicrous to me!
JC: I think you spelled "Ludacris" wrong.
GP: Sorry, I didn't know we were reading from the Book of Hip Hop!!
JC: (shaking His head) As I said in Hosea: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, ... "Lack of knowledge, of God."
GP: Hosea Williams??
JC: More bad comedy, huh?
GP: Sorry, but I find comedy to be a huge part of my coping medicine. Besides, Hosea Williams was a lot like you. He often fed the village of many with very little and he developed a huge following because of his humanitarian efforts. Both Hoseas were pretty righteous. Besides, I really think comedy is underrated.
JC: Not in this exchange.
GP: HA!! Well, JC, do you think there is a difference between being Right and being Righteous?
JC: Of course.
GP: Which is more important?
JC: The one that is wrapped in the most honorable intent.
GP: Care to elaborate?
JC: Sure. What is your intent of this blog?
GP: How much time do you have?
JC: An eternity.
GP: That’s witty. Well, I love my people….
JC: (interrupts) All people or just the people that look like you?
JC: I think I would understand if you weren’t.
GP: Well, this blog is a way for me to repay the people that shaped my life’s journey, especially the musical pioneers. I want to give something back to a community that has helped me find my voice. I feel indebted to them. I want my community to understand how much of my life I owe to them. The greatest artists and poets make me unafraid to speak truth to power. They teach me to challenge the status quo…, even if the same people crucify me.
JC: Really… (hand covering face...) Really..??
GP: I want to use this platform to thank the artists that have inspired me, like (Chuck D, Rakim, Bob Marley, Donnie, Eric Roberson, J. Dilla, KRS-1, Mos Def…
JC: (interrupting) His name is Yasiin Bey.
GP: Yeah, I like Mos Def better, its way more poetic and it has more swag!!
JC: (grinning) I like James Baldwin, yet here I am, talking to you.
GP: That’s cold, JC...
JC: (chuckling aloud) Continue...
GP: Finally, Ghetto Proverbs is an ode to my Uncle Eric. He was the most amazing man I had ever met in my life. No offense.
JC: None taken.
|Uncle Eric's House of Wisdom|
GP: My Uncle taught me to be who I want to attract. He taught me to stand up for whatever I felt was my unapologetic truth, as long as my research and approach was honorable. Uncle Eric taught me that poverty was a temporary padlock & intellect held the key. He taught me to show the world how being a good, clever, well prepared man can help to shape or change the world’s future. He taught me to be brave and fight for your beliefs. Finally, he told me that if God grants me another day, the least you can do is get out of bed and help carry out some of His duties. He was an incredible role model. I just wish he was still here to see my progress. (wiping back tears..)
JC: Do you need a minute?
GP: Nope. These watery eyes are from the burning incense in here. (that lie was obvious to us both, but easily forgiven..., at least one would hope)
JC: How do you know that your Uncle Eric isn’t here?
GP: "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout Willis!!"
JC: (shaking His head)… I see you are feeling a bit better. Not being able to see someone should strengthen your faith them, not abandon it. You should always behave like someone is watching you, even if you cannot see them. After all, that is what character is all about…., who you are when no one is watching.
GP: What do you say to people that feel like seeing is believing?
JC: I would tell them that, “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.”
GP: Wow. That would make a cool t-shirt too.
JC: Well... Thankfully the man who said it made a better Bible...
Stevie Wonder I Songs in the Key of Life I Tamla Records I September1976
JC and I took a much needed break to do some reflecting on this woeful year. We instead listened to the surrounding sounds, while He examined the landscape of Moods Music and the people..., sort of doing inventory if you will. And I just continued to write...
I know many people are dejected, hurting and scrambling to avoid this invisible pandemic that is picking off loved ones like a sniper aiming at a daycare. I know that it is hard to keep putting on designer masks when (deep down inside) many of you feel as though this society isn’t above designing the virus to exterminate the most venerable wearing them. Sometimes you just have to stop and ask just how truly evil can an evangelical society be? Or more importantly, what can be done about it?
Most of us just need to go back to the basics, like strengthening our immune systems, washing our hands more than often and strategically socializing whenever and wherever possible. Others may just put it in Jesus’ hands (which by the way is now full of CDs).
But if you are looking for a jolt of inspiration, you can pick up one of the most historical hymns that any musical theologian has ever witnessed: Songs in the Key of Life. ...Just might be the best musical project ever created. And this vinyl work of genius is the ONLY LP that every household, regardless of race, creed and color should have. When historians are discussing the 7 Wonders of the World, it seems (almost) blasphemous to omit the name Stevie Wonder (caustically speaking). The real irony, is that one of those 7 Wonders is a well-known Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ in Brazil.
As our tête-à-tête with the Templed One wrapped and we decided to let the needle find the grooves on Songs in the Key of Life… we both just watched the crowd bob & weave to it...
“Love's In Need Of Love Today” – Like any great mythological mission, this LP begins with a sermon. Stevie explained that he always wrote from a place of gratitude. And the inspiration of this particular song was Wonder’s pregnant wife. His wife also inspired the mega hit “Isn’t She Lovely” [found later in the LP] which was written for his newborn daughter.
“Have A Talk with God”
JC: (breaking his silence, with an outbrust) I REALLY LOVE THIS SONG!!!
GP: Really? (sarcasm boiling) I didn’t see that coming!
One thing that is crystal clear, no matter who you are or what you believe is your ultimate destiny.., it really helps to seek a Higher understanding for this journey through life. This month, it just so happens that I took Stevie Wonder’s advice…, literary and literally.
“Village Ghetto Land” – I obviously didn’t know this in 1976, but this song (in part) inspired the name of this blog. The actual stimulation came from the Gang Star single “Above the Clouds.” "Village Ghetto Land" is a verbal mirror and we should all be saddened by the reflection.
“Knocks Me Off My Feet” – When was the last time someone actually brought you to your knees in total admiration? Well, this song, like this interview, is littered with those types of moments. You will run out of superlatives describing the brilliance of Songs in the Key of Life — and this song is only track #7.
“Joy Inside My Tears,” “Ngiculela - Es Una Historia - I Am Singing” and “As,” are all amazing pieces to this vocal puzzle and its the epitome of poetry. Do me a favor, just find a cozy corner and let these songs stich your soul back together again. Trust me, you will feel better about the future.
For now, I am going to end with the beginning…..“Black Man” – It is almost unfair to call this a song. This single is more like a historical passage. “Black Man” was written by Stevie Wonder and Gary Byrd (who also wrote the equally impactful “Living for the City”). The underpinning of this song is an ode to Crispus Attucks, who was the first black man to die in the American Revolution. There are conflicting stories of whom this black man, Crispus Attucks really was. Therefore, there are conflicting tales of his impact and the effect his death had on this society; and ultimately how he would be remembered…., just like the Black Man interviewed for this final session...
GP: ... (turning to JC in deep appreciation for His wisdom and understanding) Do you have any final words for the people?
JC: Hindsight is once again 2020!