Archive for category: Commentary

The Pogues project – clarified

29 Dec
December 29, 2013

Seems I let a cat slip from the bag in the Q-and-A session after a recent gig in Australia by mentioning some work undertaken in conjunction with a possible stage musical involving the songs of The Pogues.   I was offering an answer to a question about whether I had thought about undertaking work in media other than prose or television.  What has ensued with the Irish press, and then with the likes of Rolling Stone, has been a little surprising, if not entirely premature.

To more carefully ground this in fact:

I’ve been a fan of The Pogues and their music since the late 1980s.  After we had used some of their songs in The Wire, I had a chance to meet the bandmembers through George Pelecanos, who had been invited to one of their concerts in Washington, D.C.  Shortly thereafter, during some time in London, I was approached by Phil Chevron about the possibility of writing a musical that would utilize the band’s discography.  Interested, I was then introduced to the estimable director Garry Hynes of Ireland’s Druid Theater, who had also been engaged by Mr. Chevron.

In turn, I approached Mr. Pelecanos and my wife, novelist Laura Lippman, to help create a storyline for such a musical.  George, my colleague on The Wire and Treme, is also a longstanding Pogues admirer and Laura, who has the lyrics of every Sondheim show memorized, has forgotten more about American musicals than I have so far learned.  We sat, worked the problem, ran it by both Ms. Hynes and Mr. Chevron, who offered notes, suggestion, encouragement and help overall.

Earlier this year, after a couple abortive drafts of leaden misery, I turned in a completed draft that was at least free of shame-inducing hackery.  The draft went to Ms. Hynes, with a copy to Phil Chevron, who was struggling with late-stage cancer.  I was glad to have produced something at least worthy of their consideration before Mr. Chevron passed away in October, if only because it was Phil’s love and understanding of the stage musical and his advocacy for this project that it exists.

Meetings and readings of the material are scheduled for later this spring, involving the writers, Ms. Hynes and her Druid team, and members of The Pogues.  After that, a second draft — this one involving Pelecanos and Lippman — is likely. And once Ms. Hynes and her team fully instruct and guide us, I have little doubt that third and fourth drafts will also be forthcoming.  Much more work by all is going to be required before such a project can be properly developed.

It is not a musical about The Pogues, as was reported, but a tale written to utilize their musical canon. It is not David Simon’s next project after Treme.  It is not the Druid Theater’s next project.  Casting calls remain unscheduled.  Rehearsal space has not been rented.  Tickets and playbills are not being printed anywhere for any purpose.  Shane Macgowan has not been assigned his house seats for the duration of the run.  No, a fellow in Sydney, Australia asked a question and without thinking too much, I answered him correctly without realizing that the internet’s reach includes the southern hemisphere.  Cat rebagged, I hope.  Or at the least, it’s a housecat at this point, not a stalking tiger.

Shooting Michael B. Jordan

03 Dec
December 3, 2013

What follows is from this month’s GQ Magazine, which named actor Michael B. Jordan — who we first victimized in “The Wire” — for the breakout performance of 2013.  His fine work in “Fruitvale Station” is wholly deserving and the film is an important one.  I was honored when the magazine asked me to write something for the year-end issue, and it’s reposted here with the magazine’s kind permission.  Congratulations, Michael.  We knew you when.

*    *    *

Perversely, we are at the edge of creating a hard-and-fast rule of film narrative in which the one assured means by which we can get America to care about young men of color is to shoot Michael B. Jordan.

Not Michael, to be fair. But any character portrayed by Michael.

The drug war? Stop and frisk? Racial profiling? Black-on-black violence? Our separate Americas? All that is commentary. If you need white folks to actually feel something, it pays to aim a handgun at Michael B. Jordan’s delicate and nuanced humanity and pull the trigger. Suddenly the risks of being young and black on an American street are apparent.

A decade ago on The Wire, we put Michael in the path of a bullet, knowing we were breaking hearts. Not merely because the kid was a fine, careful actor playing a grandly sacrificial role. But that smile—the open, adolescent warmth that filled Michael’s face in ordinary moments—God, the smile alone was going to wreck anyone watching as Wallace’s story played out.

We started him sweet and foolish and playing with action figures, and we finished him in a vacant public-housing unit, with a high-caliber bullet in his chest. On that last day of work, even the Baltimore crew—veterans of all manner of cop-show savagery and betrayal—were sullenly setting up the shot.

“I can’t believe you’re killing Michael,” said the makeup lady.

No, we’re killing Wallace.

“It’s just wrong. It’s evil.”

When J.D. fired the prop gun and the squibs spurted and Michael dropped onto the stunt mat, the script coordinator started crying.

So now, a decade later, comes Fruitvale Station, a quotidian, last-day-in-the-life account of Oscar Grant, another young black man—this one shot to death by a transit officer in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009 at the Fruitvale stop of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

Now, again, a few earnest souls in our film industry are taking steps from the beaten path to present the human-scale cost of our racial pathology. And the right actor is again required to take a bullet in such a way that we will feel the loss in all of its intricate detail.

No surprise who gets the call. Now Michael B. Jordan, an actor honed by a decade of meaningful work, turns in a performance that surrounds the doomed Oscar Grant, making him seem idiosyncratic yet average, ordinary yet precious. That’s the power of Fruitvale.

It’s easy to say as much, but to feel it? And it’s harder when we are obliged to consider those who wear hoodies, who smoke a little weed, who text the wrong thing to a girl, who ever make a single mistake in their short lives. Harder still if the dead man can’t win us with his smile.

And there’s the lesson.

If we shoot Michael dead a few more times, there’s a small chance we might actually learn it.

*       *       *

At GQ, online:

http://www.gq.com/moty/2013/michael-b-jordan-men-of-the-year-breakout#ixzz2mS7Nq3X3

 

A rugged individualist punches into the Disney compound.

10 Nov
November 10, 2013

Three year old daughter acting up in a restaurant this afternoon.  Child extricated before meal arrives.  Time out on the sidewalk bench in front of the bistro.  Three year old pouting, arms crossed.

“You know, you can’t be a princess if you don’t use your manners.”

“Why I can’t?”

“Because princesses are nice to everyone.  Ariel, Jasmine, Cinderella…they always use their best manners.”

“Well, Daddy, I am a mean, mean princess.”

“Princesses are good. How can you be a princess if you are mean?  There’s no such thing.”

Three year old thinking hard for a long beat.  Then, softly, wearily, as if sad for me:

“Silly, Daddy.  You just don’t know princess things.”

Oy.

In for a bumpy ride with this one.

 

Lost in a symptom: The Nation on marijuana reform

01 Nov
November 1, 2013

The surest way to ensure the continued abuse of people of color under the auspices of the drug war is to reduce or eliminate any corresponding threat to white Americans.  This seems to me to be such a fundamental of realpolitik in the United States that I’m still a little bit astonished that The Nation, in a recent assessment of marijuana reform efforts and racial bias, can’t see any forest from the trees.

Read more →

The Koch brothers and The Baltimore Sun

25 Jul
July 25, 2013

Some nice folk hoping to help craft a better future for my alma mater, The Baltimore Sun, stopped by the office a few weeks ago and asked me some questions about what I thought about the Koch brothers, those politically passioned gentlemen, purchasing the half-empty husks of what remains of the Chicago Tribune newspapers.

Read more →