M’man Michael A. Gonzales rapped with Jesse Johnson, the former Time guitarist who needs no introduction. (This year Jesse joined The Testimony, D’Angelo’s new band. Watch for them at the Essence Music Festival this summer, rumor has it.) Dean Van Nguyn, editor of Dublin’s One More Robot, interviewed the inimitable Morris Day. ?uestlove ran through 33 reasons why Prince is hiphop. (A mag dedicated to Prince without ?uestlove woulda been as bogus as a mag dedicated to Prince without MML.) Wax Poetics highlights The Family, Larry Graham, Andre Cymone and more. Seriously? Get it before it completely disappears.
My Madhouse article came about because it may be another 15 years before I get a shot at a 10,000-word Vanity Fair story. Four years ago I decided to start work on my dream story, something personal that only a handful of people (the right handful, of course) would even get: an exposé on the cult group Madhouse. For those who don’t know, Prince plays every instrument except sax on their 1987 début album, 8, and nearly everything on the followup record, 16. There is no Madhouse. It’s Prince, with ex-Revolution saxophonist Eric Leeds.
Prince wrote, played and produced these tunes at the tail-end of the most monumental creative peak of his career (1982-1987). Don’t bother trolling iTunes for the music, it’s not there. If you’re interested in hearing Madhouse, then YouTube is probably your best bet. This year I promise to start bugging Rhino to produce a killer Paisley Park box set.
And but so, “Syncopated Strut” is the Madhouse story I would have written for Vanity Fair if Graydon Carter had any idea who I am. I interviewed Eric Leeds in Paris, and his brother Alan Leeds (tour manager to James Brown, Prince, D’Angelo and more). I spoke with ex-Revolution keyboardist Matt Fink; sexy Madhouse cover girl Maneca Lightner; and saxophonist James Carter.
Did I mention the entire story is uncut and online for free? Nearly twice as long as the magazine version? See WaxPoetics.com.
(P.S. Love the image above, a modern take on the flavor of photographer Richard Litt’s classic Madhouse albums for the ever elusive, never released 24. If you’ve never seen the originals, scroll through Facebook’s Mad 4 Madhouse fan page, administrated by you-know-who.)]]>
Sometime in 2009 it was nice, to say the absolute least, to hear from Rebecca about her idea for a new book dealing with the elements of black cool. She wanted a mix of personal essay, art history, cultural critique and editorial—“in other words, what you do best,” she said—on any aspect of black cool that tickled my fancy. She’d spent some time reading me, and really liked my Nina Simone tribute. (Blogging pays.)
After toying with a renaissance-man theme, we settled on a piece about my namesakes, Miles Davis and Jimi Marshall Hendrix: their constant evolution, being beyond categorization, a bit of a Miles on Miles story. At the time, two other writers asked me for essays to include in book proposals their agents would be shopping: a collection of marijuana stories, a sex anthology. I just didn’t have the time to write unpaid for books that might not work out. Theirs ultimately didn’t. Rebecca’s I knew would.
Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness is available as we speak, just in time for Black History Month 2012, featuring bell hooks, Veronica Chambers, dream hampton, Mat Johnson and many others; foreword by Skip Gates himself.
Rebecca Walker, the Pulitzer-winning author Margo Jefferson and MML will all be reading at Soho’s McNally Jackson bookstore on Wednesday, February 15, 7:00. Do come through.
(Brooklynites: I’ll also be reading on Monday, February 13, 8:00 at Frank’s Lounge—A Night of a Thousand Writers, with BK music scribes extraordinaire Michael A. Gonzales and Amy Linden, and novelist-poet Sharon Mesmer. 8:00.)]]>
As a male writer in New York City, I’ve come across no shortage of women scribes who aspire to be the Carrie Bradshaw of urban media. The seductive lifestyle of record release parties, open-bar velvet rope events and celebrity sightings has drawn plenty of talented ladies into “The Industry.” Before marrying six years ago, I even fell in love with a few. My fellow Aidans and Mr. Bigs never seem to share our own stories of love, sex and city life; instead, our voices are typically relegated to the locker-room topics of politics, music and sports. “Common Sensual” breaks that silence.I hadn’t gone around pitching a relationships column to anybody. The September issue of Essence published “Fighting Temptation,” an On His Mind essay of mine about the first real temptation of infidelity in my marriage. (That’s an exaggeration, but yeah, something like that.) In the same issue, legendary Honey magazine co-founder Kierna Mayo interviewed Tracee Ellis Ross for the cover, so she read my piece. Kierna reached out in December as editorial director of Ebony.com, adding me to her contributing writer lineup. “Common Sensual” was born out of our brainstorming.
Miles Marshall Lewis—@furthermucker
Michael A. Gonzales—@gonzomike
Selwyn Seyfu Hinds—@selwynhinds
Smokey D. Fontaine—@smokeyfontaine
Paula T. Renfroe—@paulatrenfroe
Shani Saxon Parrish—@saxinnyc
Ronda Racha Penrice—@rondaracha
Allen S. Gordon—@ASGebonycat
Kweli I. Wright—@thejuiceboxx
Noah Callahan Bever—@N_C_B
Mark Anthony Neal—@newblackman
The ego trip Posse—@egotripland
P. Frank Williams—@pfrankwilliams
Barry Michael Cooper—@barrymichaelc
Karen R. Good-Marable—@karenrgood
Léa Decambre. We called her Princess Léa back in eleventh grade, of course. The teenaged Léa: bifocal granny glasses, wispy hazelnut Afro, perpetually braless, complexion of eggshell, thick French accent by way of Guadalupe. The late-twenties Léa: sleeker specs, unkempt dredlocks, svelte frame, cleavage forced forward push-up-Wonderbra style, her French lilt subtler and sexier, a clove constantly smoking between thin lips.
Every guy brave enough to run roughshod through the girls’ locker room is rewarded with at least one tits-and-ass image good for a lifetime of masturbation material. For me it’s Léa Decambre removing an aquamarine swimsuit around her ankles, her wet vanilla skin goose pimply, peach nipples grown stiff. Surprised at the sight of me Léa quickly covered a breast in each hand, overflowing fingers squeezing tight. This was the fantasy image that flashed clear in my mind the minute I saw her a decade later at the Eyedrum gallery.
That blazing summertime Saturday was significant to me, it was my first day consciously renewing my hustle as a photographer. The Renée Cox opening resembled any number of others, white wine, Brie, and fresh-vegetable finger food, Atlanta’s art elite sauntering around in casual interest. Gallery assistants in black, trays in hand, offered up chardonnay and sushi. I was accustomed by then to getting blasted on the free drinks but, unchallenged by steady work for fashion mags, I decided to order a crisp batch of business cards—reading MARSHAL, PHOTOGRAPHER—leave the wine on the trays for a change and attempt to take my career “to the next level.” Léa later told me her blasé manner that day was all about fatigue, on her feet for hours under the Southern heat serving folks. She stood out even before I recognized her, a potential model: tall, lean, and busty, tanned with Nordic features tinted African.
At Ruby Tuesdays later that week, Léa related the latest edition of the biography of her life, bringing me up to speed on the ten years since Tri-Cities. The only chapter that relates to this tale is about her beau at the time, who was on his way out, not making the grade in some way or another. My lips locked with his girlfriend over fudge brownies dessert, my heart doing hand-in-the-cookie-jar palpitations. She lit a clove soon after and admitted cloves weren’t all she smoked. We hatched plans for an herb session at my place, where Léa first met Tracy.
Tracy Culler. We’d lived a train stop away from each other our whole lives but never met till freshman year at Lincoln. I was known for stalking the campus with my Canon and taking shots of students for two bucks each while Tracy was recognized as the school’s number-one clubhead. Back home on different holiday breaks he taught me how to differentiate between DJs at the Phoenix, Diamonds, and other spots.
Tracy was tall, curly headed with a classic muscular dancer’s body, cushiony full lips, an attractive guy. We encouraged one another’s ambitions the same way we psyched each other up to get girls’ phone numbers. After choreographing some school coronations and homecoming pageants, dancing in a few music videos and award shows, Tracy dropped out of Lincoln to tour with Ailey II. Our weekly ritual of smoking dimes while plotting to take over the world actually paid off. Our breakthroughs always happened at the same time, like when he scored a J.Lo tour the same month I shot a spread for Italian GQ, or when his modern-dance teaching gig manifested as my book deal for a collection of nudes came through.
The most revealing story I could tell about our friendship deals with the winter night Tracy read my mind. We were halfway through a joint at our apartment and decided to try a little experiment. I put on a CD and pressed pause, mentally pushed the song title from my mind, and told Tracy to pluck the thought from the air with his brain.
“ ‘Liberation’?” he guessed.
We let the OutKast song play and never tried the telepathy game again.
Léa first met Tracy at our place, delivering the weed. He had all the connections. He dipped in, he dipped out, the two barely spoke. Léa loved his boyish grin. Tracy liked her chest, buoyed up by the bow of her twisted-and-tied shirttails. I wouldn’t find this out till years later; it was all lost on me at the time. Lying on my mattress, in the puff-pass of our second fat joint, talk turned sexual. Between spliffs I already sucked a telling mark onto her left breast, her dainty fingers finding their way down into my briefs, loose silver bangles jangling against my belt buckle. The summer sun had set and sex was on the table. Léa had good news and bad news.
The Bad News
“We can’t have sex,” Léa said. “I’m still with Federico. I’m not free like that.”
“Okay. Of course we don’t have—”
“It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just, it’s bad enough that I’m here with you now at all.”
“No, I know. But I am tempted to steal you away from your man. Just to let you—”
“Yeah, but even if I leave him, I can’t just jump into something new like that. Seriously. I don’t know if you can handle that. You might want to ask, like, an ex or somebody for sex. My body needs a rest. One boyfriend to the next like that? That’s not me.”
“I can wait, it’s not that serious.” Ask an ex for sex? An obvious test. What did she take me for? “I’d rather wait to be with you than to—”
The Good News
“…in fact, I wouldn’t mind watching you fuck your ex-girlfriend.”
At this, Léa took a slow, deep pull. She’d interrupted me three times already. I waited for her high to keep speaking for itself.
“At Swarthmore I used to watch my roommate Sika and her boyfriend together,” Léa said. “He was so hairy! He’d come to Pennsylvania once a month and they’d fuck the entire weekend. The first time, we were getting drunk, up all night playing Uno, and god, they just started right there in front of me, on the couch. I sat up watching, and played with myself. He kept looking over at me, Sika screaming into the couch pillow. It was this unspoken thing after a while, letting me watch them fuck. I could tell when Sika faked her orgasm. The real ones would turn her face all red. I used to hear my twin have sex in high school—”
“I never knew you had a twin sister!”
“A twin brother. Lee. It’s not a big deal. Anyway, that’s sort of my thing. I’m such a voyeur, you don’t know. I can’t satisfy you anytime soon if we start dating, I’m telling you now. But I’d love to watch you.”
“And have you…” The roach singed my fingers as I sucked in smoke. “Have you ever been with a girl before?”
Frances Jerome. She was the only ex I could think of when Léa dropped her little bombshell. I met her through Tracy the night Tupac died, a Friday the thirteenth DJ Nabs spun his heart out over at Club 112. Frances danced. Not like Tracy, not professionally. She introduced him to gay clubs that don’t even open till two in the morning, where they shake out talcum powder on hardwood floors and don’t serve alcohol and people sweat hard and dance dance dance to house music till noon the next day, girls and guys knocked out on couches to catch a second wind. Frances was fine, the thickest, heaviest-set girl I’d ever dated: big smile, big curves, big ass, big tits. Navel ring in the center of her baby-fat belly. She took an African dance class or three and whipped out those moves at a moment’s notice for some “Din Da Da.” I loved to shoot Frances. She cut her pageboy for a natural while we were together, we must’ve taken a hundred photos then.
I thought of Frances because
1. when we first met, she expected me to be sexually superadventurous for some reason and was always waiting (hoping) for my freak nature to come out,
2. I knew she’d had some female sex experiences, and
3. she was the rare ex I could still call and not get cursed out.
Nine ½ Weeks was a trite seduction pick, I know, but we were high by that point anyway and I was what, twenty-seven? By the time Kim Basinger sat on the slide-projection clicker masturbating Frances had her head in my lap while Léa sat watching at the top of the bed. Léa leaned against the headboard sparking a clove, Frances slowly deep-throating my gradually growing dick in her mouth. Fully, confidently erect, I stood to strip my jeans, boxers. Frances crawled up the mattress to Léa, took some shotgun smoke, and started kissing her. The clove got doused in a glass of Hennessey.
The rest would be a blur by now if not for the amount of times I’ve replayed the scene in my head.
Frances was the star of the show; it really felt like her threesome. I licked at Fran’s clit with Léa’s fingers inside tickling her G-spot; nuzzled my face in her pussy while Léa tasted her thick chocolate nipples. Léa sat up against my headboard again, this time with Frances on her hands and knees, her Afro bobbing between Léa’s legs, flitting her tongue inside. I crept up and grabbed Fran’s big backside in my hands, eating her pussy from behind, my thumbs fitting into the familiar slots of her curved waist, thrusting her fat ass into my face. The scenario was so crazy (and this is pre-Viagra): Léa sucking me off while Frances brought her to orgasm; driving into Frances, her butt high in the air, Léa looking on; finally fucking Léa—this longstanding teenage crush of mine—with Frances nibbling at the full breasts I fantasized so much about. The girls refused to allow any photos.
Daydreaming with them at sunrise, I could never have imagined the situation would repeat itself.
In Piedmont Park a huge sound system boomed out classics for hundreds of collected deep-house heads. My brother Omar was on break from Northwestern, hanging out with Tracy and I—he was the first to recognize Léa, from my portfolio. I hadn’t seen her in five years, since we consummated our mutual admiration curiosity and she fell back into the arms of her boyfriend.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she said, almost giggling. Was I leering? Visions of salivating cartoon coyotes popped in my head. Her dredlocks reached nearly all the way to her abs now; otherwise Léa looked the same in her early thirties as ever before.
The four of us piled into Tracy’s jeep and took off for the Underground mall. This was her first real taste of Tracy, who by this point was teaching at Spelman the upcoming fall. I noticed them both order strawberry lemonade smoothies by coincidence. The three of us were all clearly flirting with her, but Tracy and my brother soon made themselves scarce. Léa and I reunited for the second time at Hooters. (Yes, Hooters was tacky, but it was nearby.)
And? Léa was single, stuck in a gallery assistant job just as dead-end as the one she slaved at five years ago, looking to have kids. Her brother Lee had just married a French woman and fathered twins; she seemed competitively envious. She appeared to be trudging the exact same path to self-discovery she’d been on since the nineties. Maybe that’s just my latent high school rivalry point of view—Léa stuck in a rut while my own career soars—but there it is. She’d quit smoking, successful hypnotherapy. She swore my contract for the book of nudes was just game. I invited her to come over sometime and model for it.
Fast-forward to Léa and Tracy making suspiciously sensual noises behind his bathroom door, muffled by a pumping showerhead and The Headphone Masterpiece on his boombox. Léa and I had been lying on his unfolded futon waiting for his shower to end so we could all hightail it to Phipps Plaza for the latest Almodóvar. Theoretically Léa stepped inside to see what was taking him so long.
(To make a novella a short story, Léa just wasn’t interested in a round two together but we kept hanging out that summer anyway, me hoping against hope. Spending more time around Tracy piqued Léa’s curiosity and she asked my permission point-blank to start seeing him. I halfway felt I should refuse, that it could only get sticky and make me potentially jealous of my closest friend. Yet my other half reasoned that I’d already had a turn with Léa, and why shouldn’t I allow Tracy a sample if he could get some? They might actually be for each other, and we could live out some Jules and Jim foreign movie fantasy—naming their son Marshal, Léa walking around our place in her panties, pissing with the door open, etc. The potential was too titillating to selfishly refuse Léa her fun, though my reasons for allowing them to carry on were clearly just as selfish. After reassuring them both, together they caught some dance company, Evidence, one night, which weeks later led to…)
I walked into the cumulus cloud floating in Tracy’s bathroom. Somewhere in all that steam Léa and my roommate chose between an outrage that could forever have affected our relationship and an equally watershed tolerance that could likewise have made things just as uncomfortable. I sat on the commode. Léa’s striped tank and lift bra lay crumpled on tile by the radio. Tracy stood in his tub naked, holding and Frenching topless Léa five feet in front of me. The dense vapor wasn’t opaque enough to hide his erection, triggering my habitual locker-room visual evasion. I’d told Tracy about my threesome with Léa directly after it happened years ago; impossible this tableau hadn’t played out in their imaginations at some point—our implicit collective fantasy.
They spoke some whispers, then walked toward me. My plan, such as it was, had been to watch them and masturbate, but stroking myself right away would’ve eliminated the option of laughing off my intrusion. The showerhead sprayed its hot water, maintaining the mist. Soon they hovered overhead, kissing, Léa’s breasts in my face. She’d pierced her left nipple, a fresh development. Hugging her into me I licked at her navel, stood, and stripped my T-shirt, still uncertain of my place. Their lips separated and we were all close enough to look one another in the eyes. Léa leaned in with a kiss, then shimmied out of her jean skirt. Tracy read my mind once upon a time; he must have seen it all coming.
So I live in the San Fernando Valley now, California just as sunny as Georgia. Hitting thirty-three, something told me to transition out West, that my bohemian years were over and done. I’d been surviving but not thriving taking pictures over the past ten years, even with the book and its advance. (I have yet to see any royalties, authors say they’re like the Loch Ness monster.) I called in some favors to bunk around L.A. for a while till I found a place. Over two years later and I’m working on a Miramax movie, second unit director of photography. Hours are hell, pay is great.
Tracy never visits, never calls. So is the price of success really the envy of your friends? That can’t be it.
Léa and Tracy dated for a few more weeks and fizzled out. His transition to dance instructor consumed his time; a girlfriend didn’t fit his lifestyle. She met an investment banker that spring and they’re still together. In the end Léa craves the suits, creatives are just candy. She brought him to my book release party—the last time I’d ever see her—and he looked embarrassed seeing her portrait blown up in the club, life-sized and naked, strangers with cocktails asking for her page autographed.
I lived my twenties grouping life into compartments. Aside from my camera, I made social time for the Best Friend and the Girlfriend only, and Tracy was the Best Friend for many, many years, longer than any Girlfriend. I left Atlanta; life goes on and people aren’t your personal cast of supporting characters who put their lives on hold conforming to your flights of fancy, I guess. Did we grow up and I missed it? My three-way with Léa and Frances was one thing, but sharing sex with Tracy had its obvious homoerotic nuances. Maybe men with an honest platonic love for each other shouldn’t fill up the same woman at the same time. Maybe we’d still be as close if Léa hadn’t come between us. I’m still not absolutely sure she had.
Maybe I should ask him.]]>