Monday, May 7, 2012

Devin the Dude Rocks The Roxy — Bridging H-Town and LA

For the past several years, on the eve of the Kentucky Derby I am usually in comfort with my old Kentucky home.

This year, however, on the day where Star Wars fans get a kick out of saying, “May the Forth be with you” — that of May 4 — I worked all day as usual and put a treat at the end as a consolation prize. 

I got to start my day speaking with at-risk youth during the Youth Empowerment Summit sponsored by Young Leaders Society of Ventura County. Continuing with my work of the day through the afternoon; once complete I packed up with my Roll Dogs to make the quick trip to LA to see Houston hip hop artist, Devin the Dude perform at the historic Roxy Theater. For those of you who don’t know much about Devin the Dude, when you look into his glazed over eyes, you see a man who understands his niche.

Acclaimed as mostly an underground success in Houston, his brilliant flows tell stories relatable to every-man and his struggles. He has fun while doing it, which seems few and far between these days in the hip hop industry. That softened do-as-I-do bravado of his public persona seems raw and authentic backstage as well. Most of Devin the Dude’s dedicated fan base attending a show situated more than 1,500 miles from his Houston home, mouthed nearly every word to every song along with him. Aside from a new one he dropped, I believe it was called “420 Highway.” Beat was live!

The entertainers glances into the crowd and following smiles of approval — multiple times — was just a hint into the sheer enjoyment of the entertainers on stage, as the crowd equally enjoyed the show. In the house — Coughee Crothaz, Spice 1, Jugg Mugg and a host of other artists representing H-Town and the West Coast. Quality entertainment for the sake of being entertained.

Then as the show neared it’s end, amongst the haze of Cali’s fruits that now filled The Roxy the connection between entertainers and crowd rounded second base. Increasingly with the exchange of dap from the stage we all became part of the family. The Roxy became the impromptu host of Devin the Dude’s family reunion. Part of that may have been that one of my Roll Dogs, T, is from Houston. And evidently, if you’re from H-Town and you’re not in the city, you’re “kin folk.” (With a set of secret handshakes to check authenticity).

Switching from concert to experience..., enjoy a few photos: 

 A Devin the Dude classic:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Not Everyone Can Be a Smooth Operating Ninja

That’s what I was back in middle school. Taller than most. Darker and quicker too. 

A few memories from those days revolve around shop class, but one in particular comes to mind from inside Mr. Horgas’ domain. If I recall, we were working on custom projects — from blueprint to final stain, and mine ended up being a CD rack. Side note: At one point I pulled the ultimate loving son move and designed a parrot shaped clock for my mom; cut that one with the jigsaw. (No she is not a Buffett fan, she actually raised and bred parrots during my childhood).

But for this particular project I ended up using the “band saw.” Similar to a table saw in its function, the band saw gets its name because its blade runs like a belt on your car motor. Being a bit advanced on my project, I took the time to assist the ladies in class with their cuts, but only if they needed it — few resisted my assistance.

Well that, in part is what got me in trouble.

While assisting nameless young lady, I must have been distracted for a second while making a cut, because damned if that band saw didn’t cut into my right index finger. You know the one that rests on the “j” key and is also used to hit the “y” and “n.” Chewing through the tip of my finger — nail and all — this damn blade didn’t know it was working with a smooth operating ninja. It ate about a half an inch in and I pulled back. Now the tip of my finger looked like a snake’s tongue. 

That was until the blood started to gush. Saw still running I grabbed my finger with the opposing hand and walked over to Mr. Horgas who had been helping another student. I waited my turn, but then the finger started to throb and I interrupted Mr. Horgas to ask for a Band-Aid, because “I nicked myself on the band saw.”

He looked at my finger, gushing blood and his eyes engaged — “Whoa, time out on the band saw,” he exclaimed with his baritone southern draw. I didn’t laugh then, but the replay in my head is funny every time. Till this day, I can repeat that “time out on the band saw” line to certain people and it elicits immediate laughter.

Despite the medical bill situation, the little mishap ended up not being all that bad. Luckily I was covered by insurance at the time, but that wasn’t always the case. I tend to have a fairly high pain tolerance, so I don’t remember much of that — well, aside from the first few days when I could feel the replay of the sharp blade eating through the center of my finger as if it were nameless young lady’s piece of wood.

Being that it was my index finger on my right finger and that is the hand I use to write, I could choose an “assistant” to help me with my notes in class. Most certainly an attractive and friendly young lady.

These days, with a scar on my finger and healthy respect for power tools, the man I work for — California Assemblymember Das Williams — is authoring a piece of state legislation to help the common man have ninja like results also in the event their flesh comes in contact with the blade of a table saw. Technology exists that can stop the blade of a table saw — applicable to other types of saws as well — quick enough to drastically limit the injury. The proposed law would require that all table saws manufactured for sale in California after 2015 would require ninja reaction technology to detect flesh and stop it in a split second.

Federal stats document more than 67,000 injuries similar or worse than mine a year. That ads up to more than $2.36 billion in medical costs annually; same federal data, not me. It’s that high in part because the average medical cost for the blade contact injuries is about $35,000 a pop. Such available technology may not drop the number of injuries, but it sure makes them less damaging. Get this, the blade stops before it cuts off your digit. If it were you, your finger would be left with just a knick instead of, well, the alternative. 
Imagine that, just like an airbag softens the impact of an auto accident, the ninja reaction saw technology serves a similar function. And one day just as all cars come standard with airbags, so will power saws come with ninja reaction technology. Because after all, not everyone can be a smooth operating ninja.

This scribed in the hope for a lot of hungry blades out there that only get a taste — I salute my finger.

[Check this video about the legislation and technology]  


Friday, July 22, 2011

Beats, Rhymes & Life

A reflective review of the movie- Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.

Those three words pretty much sum it up.
The quest for the right beats to unleash meaningful rhymes that both reflect and project life.

Much of my musical taste and outlook on life has been shaped by the musical group A Tribe Called Quest. It's laced in my writing, often referenced in my arguments and is imbued in my swag.

The dichotomy created by the varying elements of this eclectic hip-hop group represent the complexity that comes with knowledge of self. For instance, balancing the duality of being beholden to nurtured Afrocentrism, while the unyielding enlightenment causing acquiescence to mainstream society prevails.

Stepping out on a limb, I'll say this is the only movie I have ever watched where I was literally smiling from ear to ear throughout. Even when I was about to cry. Not because I'm like the crazed fans I recall seeing pour tears at the sight of Michael Jackson, rather because there is something about my connection with the music they make that hits my core.

There was a reason why it never felt right for me to step into the starting blocks of a single high school track meet without first listening to nearly all of the Midnight Marauder TAPE. "Aiyyo swing, swing, swing to chop, chop, chop..." always happened right before the 110s.

There is a reason why I can visualize neighborhoods in New York that I have never visited. Although I don't, I too represent Linden Boulevard.

Having made the cross country trip, solo, by vehicle, at least 5 times in the past decade and having lived in 5 states, mostly as an adult, my life has been an Award Tour. And for that the Tribe has laid much of my life's soundtrack. Much of the rest they have either been influenced by or they have in-turn influenced.

Such is the case for my current local link to the film. Oxnard native Madlib did the score for the movie. Wait a minute, a cat from Oxnard, where I currently live, of all places, was tapped to do the music for what turned out to be more than a documentary about my all-time favorite hip hop group?

During the documentary when the movie's director, Michael Rapaport asks the question of on-again-off-again group member Jarobi White, "What's the hardest thing about being in a group?" His answer - "Constantly considering someone else even before yourself," that, in my view, was one of the most introspective moments of the film. Not only is that a universal theme of generic relationships, it is a struggle that has plagued many before them and likely many to follow.

The Tribe remained relevant through my formative years partly because of their conscious and whimsical wordplay. I would argue that your mind processes differently when listening to music from the Native Tongue era.

In retrospect of their break up and upon witnessing the chemistry that I only got to see on stage first hand once - Rock the Bells 2008 at the Gorge (footage is in the film) - I question, could the Tribe regain relevance in a society inundated with images of sex, drugs and violence? As a culture as a movement, hip hop has evolved, but the guidance of our more wise and conscious elders could remain useful in the game.

Now if they would only listen to their own words,
Phife: You on point Tip
Q-Tip: All the time Phife
Phife: Then play the resurrector and give the dead some life.

James Joyce III is based in Southern California and saw the film during the opening weekend at the sole west coast theater showing the movie at the time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Bi-Coastal Reaction - jumpstart the juices

So I finally made it back.
For the first time since moving to California in 2009 under less than desirable circumstances, I found myself back in my native state.
The 410/443.

The last time I had been on this turf it was amidst witnessing one of the most historic events of my lifetime. The initial inauguration of President Barack Obama. A lot has changed since then. No longer merely an observer, but now a participant. The words "Change" and "Hope" have a much heavier connotation. And there is now an ice box where my heart used to be.

Circling back happened at the request of a childhood friend who requested my presence in his wedding. The timing and and the numbers in my bank account aligned and it was my honor to be a part of Joe and Marianne's very special day. Although I do urge them in matrimony to build close ties with other black folks as well; as for all the diversity there was at the wedding - beautifully held in the sculpture garden of the Baltimore Museum of the Arts - I was the lone darkie. (Yes, I am conscious of such things)

Yet that also played in my favor.

The urging to "get to bloggin" again came from a suspected family member. I was approached by a bubbly Korean girl who saw that my last name too was Joyce and wondered if we were related. She married into the name and later turns out we are not related, but when she added me on Facebook the tail end of her message simply reads, "Also, please update your blog. mmkthanks..." Ok, Ok!

Strange thing, I don't know of a single cousin of mine that shares the last name Joyce.

The trip back home — cause for black folk home is always where you were raised — also gave me a chance to catch up with two Maryland staples that I have been greatly missing: Steamed Crabs and Utz salt & vinegar potato chips. Check and Check. There was a few brief moments in the hectic weekend to catch up with a few family members, including a quick stop to visit my mom. Then it was back across the country. Tis a beautiful one we have indeed.

Getting back to west coasting was a transition. The attitudes are vastly different. For example, damn a pedestrian. Crosswalks in Maryland are treated much differently than in Cali.

Soon following this one was my first trip to San Francisco — vastly different indeed.

Friday, December 24, 2010

California Livin'

The morning started with a coffee and a blueberry muffin on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. Total bill, $4.20; that’s California living.

Life experiences — mostly career and women — have carried me from my native Marlyand to the great state of Ohio, a drive across the country and brief stop in southern California. A few years in Indiana, several more in Washington state and then back in Ohio for a quarter of a year and then once again I land in SoCal. Through my travels and intimate observations of regional cultures, I conclude; there is nothing quite like California living.

Especially, southern California Living. Cold is redefined. As is fine.

In SoCal, the ability to adapt to the bilingual and bicultural lifestyle is key. Lemon and chili powder or Tap on everything. You make chips/ papitas instead of just snacking on them. Knowing that there is a right side to the tortilla is not essential, but a keen since to the obscure idiosyncrasies of a people can go a long way. (One side of the tortilla has a slightly different texture to better hold the meat, cilantro and onions).

Seemingly, only in California can a mediocre east coast hustle, mixed with an element of midwest swag be part of the formula to thrive in a “down economy.” It’s here that I’ve been able to network my way into a state job as a field representative for a smart, savvy, progressive and cool ass Assemblymember.

California living is about learning to trust the roots of the towering palm trees as they sway in the wind. “Tay ina win.”

This one has been on my mind for a while, but taken me a while to push out. Why you ask … California Living.

— James Joyce III

Two quotes that feel good to me:

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
--Ben Franklin

Experience is an author's most valuable asset; experience is the thing that puts the muscle and the breath and the warm blood into the book he writes.
-Mark Twain

Friday, May 21, 2010

On the Campain Trail — Now about that fear and loathing

More than seven years ago, a young newspaper reporter green and a fresh graduate of a reputable J-school penned a column that ran in the Chronicle Tribune, Marion, Ind. with the headline, "We should all fullfill our civic duty to keep politicians in line."

After the column had published I recall a conversation with my bulldog of an executive editor, lambasting me for what I had wrote. She warned that I hadn't earned the authority to make such aggressive statements about my disdain for politics and politicians, especially coming from someone relatively new to the community. (Good luck to anyone who can find that column, it ran a little more than a month ahead of a primary election).

Fast forward seven years and I find myself on the other side of the politics game — and that-it-is; a game! There is a strange juxtaposition when you jump from in front of, to behind the printed political story. But the words I shared with the community of Grant County, Ind. comes full circle to my current work as a field organizer for Das Williams' campaign for California State Assembly, District 35, which spans slightly north of Santa Barbara, down to include most of Oxnard.

I feel different than most of these politicos. Much of the time I feel like the lone strait, right handed cat in the room wearing his watch on the right wrist. Or maybe I'm just the only cat in the room who would pay attention to such detail.

But now, I have become a part of the very political machine from which I have previously felt disenfranchised, have scrutinized and bemoaned. I went from being that unemployed guy, to working on my first campaign, like I hopped into the cockpit of Bugatti Veyron. Although, much less glamorous. Twelve hour days are a welcome delight. It doesn't exactly feel like work always, but I've got plenty of work to do.

In my past, I have covered plenty of elections, from small town politics and school board races to pieces of the historic 2008 Presidential election. The latter, from THE battle ground state of Ohio. Then, I was working as the education reporter at the Toledo Blade. One day, on that campaign trail, my assignment was to follow and cover the rallies of Sarah Palin as she traveled the state, from Canton to Columbus. I contributed on the scene add-ins to the overall coverage. Sidebar: Those Secret Service guys are alright, but they are on their job. I guess game recognize game though.

Let it be known, covering an election and working for a campaign are like comparing a one night stand to a summer fling that has the potential to turn into something longer term.

I was ignited in part by that need-to-know associated with being a newspaper man. The rest of the fire came out of the annoyance of having to quietly sit in the stands and simply report what I saw leading up to and through the announcement that Barack Obama was going to be our 44th President. So I jumped at the chance to put my skills to use for a progressive, smart and upcoming young man with a background as a community organizer and university instructor. Additionally, Das has a strong endorsement from a highly respected friend. Then, when my skeptical gauge realized the genuineness of Das, I know his intentions and actions are in the right place and he isn't going to be one of the "many or multiple" "small blood-sucking insects" I wrote of in March 2003.

"Political influence is a chance to utilize the power that citizens create for you to change not only yourself, but also the community you represent."

I feel like Das Williams really gets that and it's something he has been doing through his grassroots campaign for State Assembly. House to house, neighbor to neighbor, the past few months have flown by. The countdown is now fewer than 20 days until the June 8th Primary. The day 69 count seemed like it was just last week — but that's also when my written words got the 7-year itch.

To date, this campaign trail is riddled with good times, inspiring young minds, plenty of talking, occasionally some gawking; takes lots of cojones and can be cold and lonely, much time spent on the phone, many "I'll vote for, but volunteer ... no." Networking and meeting all new people, the campaign trail pushed me back through the churches steeple.

"Decisions should reflect Kingdom values and not abandon the basic tenants of our faith," Das said to the congregation.

My man. It was the most in-his-element I had seen the candidate. Though my bet is that he'd be even more comfortable once he's elected and can directly effect change. But the road to that aim is paved with slung mud and lined with tactics and distortions. Just more of what had previously kept me out of the process.

"Politics is a blood sport, people need not forget it," the Derby Jedi reminded me early on the campaign trail.

"Axel grease wards off the theft of yard signs. Wipe it on a towel and smear it around the edges," the wise sibling suggested.

I'm just going to stay on the grind and stick to the winning plan. Have got to get on my game. Must I fall at the feet of my sugar mama again, this time in my three-decade-old birthday suit? The campaign trail made me do it!