Monday, December 28, 2009

Chapter 4: Mississippi Moonpie

Showbiz Misszzip big-time hits are relatively few and far between. From my hometown B.B. King rose to rule the Blues. Up in Tupelo ["…rahwt nexta Onepelo"—Richard Prior (as “Mudbone”)], the king of Rock-n-roll invaded Memphis to take his throne of grace…land. John Grisham wrote his own ticket, while Oprah not only took over the television world but also claimed the letter “O” in the name of her kingdom.

These lofty lords of Olympus and their marble movements notwithstanding—[Amadeus 1984]…

In my day, anyone daft enough to spout off about dreams of fame and fortune might as well have been verbalizing about a personal encounter with Big Foot and the Keebler® elves.

Needless to say I was considered weird by most, cool by many, and unrealistic by but a few of those whose opinions actually counted. Such an environment—for one highly motivated to succeed in spite of overwhelming opposition—germinated seeds of my ambition that grew into an addiction to music making.

A funny thing happened on the way to Sidney becoming SIDney. After years of notation dictation teleprompting [site-reading John Thompson and Bach for weekly piano lessons at Mrs. Lowes’], one day I decided I’d had enough. I implored father to let me quit. He countered by pleading insistently that I not quit. He even played the parental guilt card, listing all that he had done for me, and contrasting it all with the only thing he’d asked of me: take piano lessons. God must have reminded him of that in the “be careful what you ask for-moment” that came four years later—when after completing my 3.85 GPA freshman year in college, I declared Jazz and Commercial Music as my major. And might I add, at that point comparatively I knew less about music than did I at the point of our initial break up.

For most of my four years as a “Music Major”, I was berated for all I seemed not to be. I was always two or three chairs from first [depending of course on if there were three or four chairs]. It wasn’t until my senior year that I began to emerge as a talent.

That year, Jeff Pellaton arrived (my own personal “Mr. Holland/Mr. Myiagi/Ann Sullivan…”-teacher experience). The program’s established Jazz ensemble was the big band. There…a very talented keyboardist named Mike Roberts [one of the Lubbock, Texas gang] ruled the keys. He was so far ahead of me chops-wise that trying to keep up with him was like running a race by faith that you actually still had an opponent up ahead—the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). Mr. Pellaton took over as Jazz-Improv instructor; that’s how I became his student. He soon after formed the Jazz-Rock Percussion ensemble, wherein I beat out myself for first chair keyboards. I began to bloom there as a player and as an arranger and composer. That one year did more for my professional confidence than all the three prior years combined. I remember listening one day to the big band playing this great arrangement flawlessly. I was grooving to it for about a minute before I recognized it as my own composition and arrangement for my senior project. Ironically, that piece was titled: “†Huh? Anthem of the Slow-Brained”.

When I graduated and very soon moved to Detroit, I was able to start fresh with a self-image engaging, confident, and thoroughly professionally seasoned when working with the likes of George Clinton and old Motown™ Records veterans like Sylvia Moy, Barrett Strong, William Witherspoon, and my close friends: Paul Riser and the late great Johnny Bristol.

On my way (I’d thought every step of the way on the way to the way to way far from the way still—†Huh?), I fantasized coming home to Mississippi, to the little house in the woods (Choctaw translated: Itta Bena). I imagined how (micro-small “g”) godlike would be my reception as I distributed my modern day equivalent of beads and mirrors to the primitive natives—who would figuratively shy away from my metaphorical camera—for fear of having there so-to-speak souls stolen. …unimaginable degrees of narcissism from such an admittedly humble guy…maybe of the most so:)

Therein lays this poem’s central meaning in this. Fate has a way of deflating fat expectations when still fa (a long long way to go) we’ve fixated on a presumptuous victorious image of us having arrived to sip te with jam and bread, only to find ourselves led back to “Dodo”-status. [How many points is that on Celebrity Solfégio?].

Anyway…I am bound by honor and by cathartic need to admit that the spirit of this is somewhat autobiographical…yes. In the upcoming musical: “Cowhide’s Only Made from Those That Didn’t”—based on my novella of the same title— the protagonist (Russell Lazur)—after an abysmal high school social life among the untouched lower cast of colorfuls—has arisen from those ashes to become a still quickly rising C-list record producer. In the midst of his aggrandizement, he accepts an invitation to his five-year high school reunion. Delusional and set askew with the misinterpreted notion that the adage "success is the best revenge" calls for the rubbing of once turned-up noses in it, he fantasizes about a god-like heroic entry. Of course if it worked out that way, there wouldn’t be a story. And without a story, where then would be the novella? This is how the fiction business works.

Of particular joy for me was the opportunity to produce Reuben Yabuku.

Reuben is an amazing talent: singer, †actor (of stage and screen††, as they say), playwright, director, and producer/impresario. Reuben and I first began working together when Reuben was producing and directing the Detroit production of the August Wilson play “Fences”. I was hired to compose music cues. The production won critical acclaim and enjoyed relative financial success. Also successful was our collaborative structure—in place and now having lasted over twenty years.

Reuben’s recitation of Mississippi Moonpie to a Jazz track serving as the homophonic title cut is one of a few of my favorite Mμne-Pi things. Just when I was coming into my appreciation of good meaningful records—backindaday—The Last Poets were readying for the curtain call. Near the end of their stretch, Quincy Jones placed their “Beautiful Black Girl” on his Mellow Madness album. I enjoyed the fit of poetry in the flow of this album. I’d long wanted to pay homage—somewhat as a counter to oh such much banal paid-off Rap offerings. Comparisons too often [read: at anytime] drawn between The Last Poets and rappers in general as being categorically linked skews unfavorable against the former. Most rappers characterized as (unquestioned-quadruple-quotes) poets…besmirch the entirety of that idiomatic existence. Most, I’m stating. That said, there are some amazing instances of poetic excellence in the Rap overall expanse of the idiom. It’s just unfortunately the exception and not the rule.

The poem

In the poetry corner of Cranial Crumbs & ReSIDue, I had written the text for this song in a poem by the same title. …coincidence? N/A. I immediately thought to go to something reminiscent of Beat-Era, with its jazzy liveliness. I needed an underscore; I found the perfect one in a two-year old song file I had titled “String Fanfare 030907″. By the title, it’s obviously something that had begun as an experiment working with strings; and somehow it gravitated back to my piano. “Mississippi Moonpie” was not only a great marriage of text and track, but Reuben’s recitation timed-in perfectly. The street scene carry-over from “That Said…” to tie-in to “MS Moonpie” was icing on the cake. …or banana frosting on the Moonpie®, as it were.

†Director Rob Reiner recently said as much.

††Reuben co-starred with Star Trek’s Walter Koenig (Chekhov) in the nineteen-eighties indie feature film “Moontrap”. Most recently Reuben was seen in the 2009 TNT™ network biopic of Dr. Benjamin Carson: “Gifted Hands”.

“Moonpie” returns to his small Mississippi hometown. His brings with him spoils of his metropolitan success—only to draw scorn and ridicule from the “primitives”. …possibly imagined.

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