The Dominant One, The Prominent One

What can I say… I’m speechless, at a loss for words. My favorite hip-hop MC of all time passed away Monday. Guru, of Gang Starr, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, succumbed to cancer after what was reportedly a very intense battle and ended in a month long coma and then a heart attack. He was 43 (47 according to the New York Times). There’s a lot of drama surrounding his passing, but it’s family business and should be left out of the media.

It was about 1989 and I used to stay up late to catch Pump It Up on Fox, which I think came on around 1am eastern time. I was just a kid, and I’d sneak out of bed to watch it. I was hooked on hip-hop long before I had a license to drive or even kissed a girl – the only one among my friends who embraced hip-hop long before it became mainstream. It was on Pump It Up that I first heard of Gang Starr and I was immediately hooked – like a lightning rod struck me right on my head. Hip-hop spoke to me like nothing else – certainly not the hairbands of the time, the heavy metal, the wack and cheesy R&B, or anything else of the time. Gang Starr had the video for Just to Get a Rep played on Pump It Up that at the same time as Boogie Down Productions, Brand Nubian, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, so many other pioneers of the time. Hip-hop was real – and GangStarr embodied what I wanted from music in the days of my youth.

In the years that followed, through some very tumultuous teenage years (and then some), it was among others but namely Gang Starr that were always on my headphones. Guru’s philosophy, lyrical genius, social messages, messages of knowledge of Self, about workin hard, and DJ Premier’s cuts, scratches, blends of jazz, horns, and melodies kept my feet on the ground and kept me tough and strong-minded when I had little else to hold on to. Gang Starr gave me power, strength; Gang Starr was a fixture in my life and to this today remains that way.

The news hit me yesterday when my friend DJ GarfDigga tweeted:

Back home in Brooklyn passin thru East New York listenin 2radio – hearin the love for #Guru #Gangstarr – Love is Love

I had no idea what he was talking about but I instantly got the chills. Moments later I saw the news and we tweeted back and forth.

Now, I don’t usually get upset about celebrities passing, with rare exceptions like Michael Jackson, Joe Strummer, Kurt Cobain, and a small handful of others. But Guru, Gang Starr, Jazzmatazz, was like a teacher to me. With Guru gone now I can’t help but feel like a part of myself was just lost as well. I know that the music and the philosophy will live on, but it’s little comfort right now.

Finding a way is important
Map out a plan, take a stand, you can work it
The future’s all in your hands and
So of yourself, yea, you should be demanding
We’re all responsible for whatever outcome
That’s why I speak over beats for my income
Knowledge is key and if you ask what it is, g
It’s just a form of my style of street ministry
Street ministry…

And, one of my favorite’s of all time, that just gets me ready for daily battle every time I hear it:

Aiyyo I’m gonna be on ti dop that’s all my eyes can see
Victory is mine yeah surprisingly
I’ve been laying waiting for your next mistake
I put in work and watch my status escalate
Now I’ma start collectin props connectin plots
networkin like a conference cause the nonsense is yet to stop
Jakes shake me down, haters wanna take me down
Break me down, CLAP all they heard was the sound

When Guru released Jazzmatazz in the early 90s, I jumped on board and found myself hooked again. It wasn’t long after that I became a jazz freak – just took the plunge, started exploring jazz of all kinds, of all flavors.

In my early 20s when I was going through more crap, had lost some friends to reckless living, crime, prison, and others were just going down a path I didn’t want to take, it was Moment of Truth that I put on my headphones when I’d bike around the city just thinking and meditating on life. Empowered by the lyrics, the confidence, the wisdom, I sorted my shit out and never looked back.

Alright – ’nuff said. Keith (a.k.a. Guru) Elam – thank you for your gift to me and to so many others and for leaving such an imprint behind. Rest in peace.

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Project 365: As it Happens

If you’re following along with my Project 365, I’m including the pics below. I upload each picture every day when possible. Here’s an update on the project after my first month at it.

You can see the all photos of the project below. If you click on the pics they’ll open up in a lightbox and you can browse the gallery one at a time. These pics are all stored up on my flickr page in the Project 365 set.

I’m having a ton of fun and finding new ways of challenging myself and creating more interesting photos(I should say photos that I find interesting). Some are lame and mundane too, but hey, what can you take a picture of when you in bed with the flu? Don’t answer that.

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157623117114636″ flickr size=”medium”]

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The Buddha: In His Own Words

img_0393This last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Evan Brenner, the man behind The Buddha: In His Own Words. Evan describes his show as “The extraordinary life of the Buddha assembled from the original texts and performed as a one-man play.” And yeah, that about sums it up. What you can’t really gather, though, from the website, and even from the coverage of Evan’s show in the media, is the total passion and sincerity with which Evan’s performance embodies.

I, along with my wife Ali, were lucky enough to attend his Saturday night img_0443performance at the Boston Center for the Arts. I was supposed to photograph it but unfortunately because of the intimate setting of the venue the shutter and mirror sounds from my Canon EOS were just too loud for comfort. So, for a nice change, I was able to enjoy the show as a spectator and not just as a photog. But I still had to take the photos – so Evan was kind enough to invite me back during the week for a private performance. This way, I could be as curious with my camera as I desire and wander around the stage, which is exactly what I did last night.

Evan actually performed the entire second act of his one-man show for me, with lighting effects and all. Yet, because of time considerations, and probably because of the pure passion he has for what he’s immersed himself in for who-knows-how-long – he did this performance for me, in costume, and in hyperspeed! It was The Buddha: In His Own Words, Act II, on fast forward. It was very challenging! Evan was moving around the stage as fast as you’d expect a performer to move when doing their performance in double-time. He was zigging and zagging across the stage, taking his various positions. He was contorting his body in ways only a performer or yoga student would, as if to wake his body from a day’s long slumber to ready for the evening’s show. His hands more expressive than I remember them being at Saturday’s show. His facial expressions, eye movements, even his mouth, all exagerated for the sake of waking himself and, I think, giving me some some color to work with in my compositions.

img_0550So, that’s what I ended up with – Evan Brenner, as The Buddha, fully animated and, best of all, sincere and full of passion. You can’t help but get a sense from Evan that he’s not just a student of Buddhism, but also a bit of a teacher. The books on his stage most likely all read by him over the past twenty years. As a spectator viewing with my own eyes, and as a photographer viewing through the viewfinder, I believe Evan. I imagine that’s all that he, and any stage performer, can ask for.

You can see all the photographs here, on Flickr. Please open to full screen mode, using the button at the bottom left.

Bread & Puppet


www.flickr.com

It’s certainly not for everyone, but it has a certain appeal. I first went to the Bread & Puppet’s Domestic Resurrection Circus in Glover, VT in 1995, before I ever knew a thing about the theater and circus. These parties, held for 27 years, grew into a drug fueled spectacle of hippies, ravers, punks, you name it – thousands and thousands of people gathering on a couple farms for a weekend of music and partying. The thing that struck me most about these parties was that so many people of different colors, backgrounds, countries, tastes, could all gather together and get along. Strangers were no longer strangers. My experiences at Bread and Puppet were some of the best of my long and reckless youth.

My last year there was the last year. I woke up in the morning, August 8th, 1998, in my tent, hot and sweaty from the morning sun to my friend kicking my tent and demanding I wake up, which I did after hearing the words “someone was murdered.” That was enough to get me out of the tent. A mere 20 feet from our campsite on the farm were police and yellow tape, and a body bag ready to be carried away. Someone had died, violently, as rumor had it.

The sting of that experience has never left me – I’ll never forget the horror that crept up my spine that morning. A mere feet from me was a lifeless body – and that this person’s life ended at some point during the night – while perhaps no one even knew it. That amongst thousands of people, one person could be killed, and no one would notice, was a solitude I’d never considered before.

Here is a great history of Bread & Puppet’s Domestic Resurrection Circus.

A couple years ago I heard that Bread & Puppet was in town, here in Boston, at the Boston Center for the Arts, and my wife, who was also in attendance in 1998 (before we’d met) and I went to the show. We were blown away, by the depth of symbolism of the performance. The puppets brought me back over 10 years to the first time I saw similar ones, on the fields in Glover, VT.

Last week I volunteered to take photos of the Bread & Puppet performance at the BCA, and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to take part in B&P from a totally different perspective.

The times have changed, but in some ways, some things just remain the same.