clean as a bone

“You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone.”

We are not far removed from the 30th anniversary of the death of writer James Baldwin, who died from stomach cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France on December 1, 1987. Last night, I completed The Fire Next Time, his 1963 release that contains two essays: “My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation,” and “Down At The Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind.” I have read nearly every novel and collection of essays by Baldwin, but with the exception of Go Tell it on the Mountain, have not revisited his words in nearly 40 years.

As I read The Fire Next Time, Baldwin’s voice, and the intelligence, emotion and spirituality behind it were not just familiar, but as intrinsic as my breathing. It was remarkable in that it was as if the passage of time between readings had never occurred; I had been so profoundly transformed by his writing that I shared his sense of self awareness, rhythm, logic and even sentence structure, in my own crude approximation of his genius.

With that, I was hard pressed to recite a famous Baldwin quote; this post’s title and opening line will need to serve that purpose. I have always marveled at Baldwin’s literary dexterity, but with this most recent reading, realized that his vocabulary is relatively simple and straightforward. What I did recall accurately was his mastery of complex sentence structure which is rivaled only by the resulting catharsis upon reading them.

Blackness informed his writing, but never defined it. Baldwin’s blackness was not a handicap, it was not something he had to overcome or rise above through his intelligence; his greatness was in his blackness. His words challenge without being confrontational or condescending. Revelation is from the inside out; there is no peeling back of layers, which implies useless elements to be discarded. Nothing is wasted. Think of a time-lapse photo of a flower blooming; that is Baldwin’s writing.

While not religious, the drama, renewal and healing power of love expressed in religious thought are at the core of Baldwin’s value system. He demands purity in the expression of truth, in laying one’s soul bare. In this sense, he is much like John the Baptist, unafraid of the spiritual wilderness, leading by example, but also warning that the current path leads to destruction.


“If we–and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others–do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.”

The Fire Next Time, 1963

“And a really cohesive society, one of the attributes, perhaps, of what is taken to be a “healthy” culture, has, generally, and, I suspect, necessarily, a much lower level of tolerance for the maverick, the dissenter, the man who steals the fire, than have societies in which, the common ground of belief having all but vanished, each man, in awful and brutal isolation, is for himself, to flower or to perish.”

Nobody Knows My Name

If I am to make a single resolution for the new year, it will be to reacquaint myself with my muse and reread every one of his brilliant works. For my children, a Christmas wish: write me one sentence, “as clean as a bone,” on any subject you wish, that mirrors the structure of this 115-word gem from The Fire Next Time:

“This past, the Negro’s past, of rope, fire, torture, castration, infanticide, rape; death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone; doubt that he was worthy of life, since everyone around him denied it; sorrow for his women, for his kinfolk, for his children, who needed his protection, and whom he could not protect; rage, hatred, and murder, hatred for white men so deep that it often turned against him and his own, and made all love, all trust, all joy impossible—this past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity, human authority, yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful.”


Redhead Record Review – Vol. 8

Our featured redhead is Jessica Rabbit. Her exaggerated features and over-the-top sexuality well represent the 1992 album X-tra Naked by Jamaican star Shabba Ranks. All boobs and butt, Jessica would fit in nicely with the dancers featured on the Jamaican dancehall videos playlist on Rockers TV.

jessica rabbit

X-tra Naked was Shabba Ranks’ most popular release, and won the 1993 Grammy for Best Reggae Album. Categorizing this album as reggae is misleading as it is more a mix of hip-hop, R&B, and West Indian dancehall, and its cross-over appeal made Ranks the most internationally recognized Jamaican artist since Bob Marley.

Shabba’s style and lyrics are raw. You might want to be mindful of your audience if you plan to blast this album off your back deck. However, if the neighbors are not up to speed with their Jamaican patois, they likely will not understand half of what they hear.

Ting-A-Ling is a good launch point to get a feel for the patterns and beats common in dancehall, two quick phrases, followed by a double-length third line.

Ting-a-ling a ling, dancehall it swing, DJ head stuck up when hear boom riddim.
Ting-a-ling a ling, schoolbell a ring, knife and fork ah fight fi dumplin.

Shabba shouts the intro to Slow and Sexy which blends reggae and R&B, and features New Edition alum and 90’s crooner, Johnny Gill, growling and scatting alongside Shabba’s booming vocals.

Will Power has a throwback rub-a-dub style, both in the instrumental arrangement and rhythm, while Muscle Grip is Shabba’s take on tenderness as it his most restrained performance on the album, and opens with a sample of Earth Wind & Fire’s Reasons.

Rude Boy is a Jamaican anthem that draws from the spirit of Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud by James Brown. Read unrepentant for rude and man for boy, in dealing with authority.

The lyrics to Cocky Rim are so crude and nasty that I’ve yet to listen past the first verse. 5-F Man provides much of the same. There is no subtlety to be found anywhere in this collection. While the message in Bedroom Bully varies little from this theme, musically it is intriguing. Shabba leads in with raw scratchy vocals while a sinister descending synthesizer riff plays over the top, then switches to a deep baritone echoed by a pounding drum beat.

What’cha Gonna Do? displays Rank’s skills as a rapper. He spits lyrics at breakneck speed, rivaling Busta Rhymes and Rakim. Shabba briefly shares the beat with Queen Latifah, back when she was more hip-hop artist and less movie star. It’s a fine performance, and after her verse is complete, Shabba blazes off, leaving everyone in the dust.

While What’cha Gonna Do? is a hip-hop track with Jamaican flair, Ready-Ready, Goody-Goody is the flip side, contemporary Jamaican dancehall with an R&B influence. Another One Program is more traditional dancehall, complete with its unique instrumentation and sound effects.

Rounding things out are Two Breddrens with Chubb Rock launching into the lyrics with his best impersonation of Shabba, and Mr. Loverman, the most popular single from this album.

Mis-ter Lover-man, Shabba!

This album is Shabba Ranks at his finest, and a great synthesis of Jamaican dancehall and hip-hop. Wind ya body!


Track listing

  1. Ting-A-Ling – 3:52
  2. Slow and Sexy (Featuring Johnny Gill) – 5:18
  3. Will Power – 3:35
  4. Muscle Grip – 4:01
  5. Rude Boy – 3:54
  6. Cocky Rim – 3:37
  7. What’cha Gonna Do? (Featuring Queen Latifah) – 3:50
  8. Bedroom Bully – 4:13
  9. Another One Program – 3:39
  10. Ready-Ready, Goody-Goody – 4:07
  11. Two Breddrens (Featuring Chubb Rock) – 4:25
  12. 5-F Man – 4:14
  13. Mr. Loverman (With Chevelle Franklin) – 5:58

Backup Quarterback

On Monday, New York Giants owner John Mara announced the firing of head coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese. On the surface, the move seemed to be a direct response to the mishandled benching of QB Eli Manning and the resulting outrage expressed by the media, current and former teammates of Manning’s and especially the fans, but at the core of the poor decision was starting backup quarterback Geno Smith in place of Eli. Interim coach, Steve Spagnuolo has announced that Manning will rightfully resume his role as starter against the Cowboys on Sunday.

If we are to believe any of the explanation put forth by McAdoo to justify his decision, that he felt Geno was a better fit for his game plan, then it was further proof of his incompetence. Still, there are some individuals, including the local press and even a couple of current teammates who feel that Geno was not given a fair chance to win the starting job. I agree that he was made a scapegoat in the mess that was created by Mara, McAdoo and Reese, but there are some Geno apologists who have gone so far as to suggest that his poor performance, against a Raiders team that seemed to do everything they could to lose the game, earned him the right to get more playing time.

What has been mostly lost in this whole morass is the basic understanding of the role of the backup quarterback. The backup QB is the last resort, “break glass and pull lever in case of emergency” option if your starting QB goes down and can’t play. He is not your future…you do not create a game plan to suit him, and you certainly don’t bench your legendary, beloved two-time Super Bowl hero to give him a look. The evaluation process was completed in the preseason when Geno won the backup QB spot. The other crime is that the potential QB of the future, Davis Webb, has not been available to come into a game to date. However, when he is ready to start, it’s very simple: Webb is the starting QB and Geno Smith is the backup.


For now, Eli is back where he belongs. I hope the Giants are motivated to defeat the hated Cowboys. After that, let’s take a look at Webb and find Geno a comfortable seat on the bench.


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