Monthly Archives: March 2010

Between a book and a hard place

I have to confess, I’m not responsible for the titles of my 225 pieces, but I really wish I could claim credit for the title of the newest one. I love the title “Between a book and a hard place,” for my most elaborate 225 piece yet. It started out as a book review of The Dictionary of Louisiana French, which quickly became something more after my initial round of interviews.

I’ve said several times how much I enjoy writing for 225, but I can’t thank them enough for listening–and agreeing!!–when I arrived in person at their office and said, “There’s a bigger story here.”  Their response was all I could have hoped for–positive and embracing, even if they kept me at the same extremely tight deadline. 🙂 I’m very proud of this piece and to be a part of the magazine.

I’m also extremely grateful to each and every person who spoke with me, including and especially those who gave me background information but weren’t mentioned in the piece. Thank you: Amanda LaFleur-Giambrone, Adelaide Russo, Greg Stone, Tania Nyman, Sharon Andrews, Clint Kimberling (at University Press of Mississippi), Herman Fuselier (of B&N Lafayette), Anna Nardo, Rick Blackwood and Aaron Emmitte. And David Gallent, the photographer!

LSU and the state of Louisiana stands to lose a lot of valuable, creative and inspirational people and programs if we don’t take a stand on these budget cuts!

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offBeat Magazine hits the right note

I was so satisfied to see the selection of letters to the editor and the “Strange Fruit” item on page 8 of April’s issue of offBeat. Their response is, finally, exactly what I could hope. Maybe better than I hoped for.

It begins: “On our March cover, we demonstrated a remarkable lack of judgment and sensitivity when we matched a photo of a young band hanging from monkey bars with the headline ‘Strange Fruit.’ The combination of the phrase and the hanging image was far too close to the subject of the Billie Holiday song first recorded in 1939–lynching–and we’re profoundly sorry for our mistake.” And it ends, “We regret treating such a history so casually, and we’ll make an effort to do better in the future.”

In between these well-expressed statements is a history of the song, “Strange Fruit,” highlighting a haunting story of a woman following Billie Holiday into the powder room, screaming at her, “Don’t you sing that song again! Don’t you dare!”, ripping her dress and then tearfully explaining how it reminded her of a lynching she’d witnessed as a child. Wow. Powerful stuff.

Thank you, offBeat, for listening to your readers and using the opportunity to bring the important thing back in focus — the music. Thank you for being, once more, a magazine we can be proud of, as New Orleanians and lovers of music.

Serendipitously, a friend posted a related image on Facebook, which I found on the Internet, here. I think it sums up the entire month for me.

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Fess Up Friday Finally

It’s been a while. I wrote six posts in the first two weeks of this month, most of them about the same thing, and I think I needed a break from all of that. I’ve rarely felt like that – torn between the debilitating need to discuss something and the longing to be able to think about anything else. But I’m proud to say my book didn’t suffer in the midst of the mess.

I am behind schedule. I’d set myself the deadline of Easter, trying to finish the book during Lent. I knew it was pretty ridiculous, but needed a deadline to motivate myself. And as I learned during the two weeks I was a shut-in for the sake of my thesis deadline (subsisting on Rockstar Energy Drink and hardy vegetables, only leaving the apartment to treadmill and watch the last of the Bob Barker Price Is Right episodes), the more ridiculous the deadline, the braver you’re forced to be.

The book is starting to be something beautiful I never would have imagined at the beginning of this whole process (circa 2004), something that it was always somehow meant to be, something that it knew it would be, all along. The book knows, as Jamey always says, and its will is stronger. No matter how stubbornly I insist on my way, it wins out every time. But, if I didn’t fight it, would it know itself so well?

I haven’t really been counting new words as strenuously as I once was, because most of the new words are essential little sutures tying together fleshier sections that already existed.

However, for those of you numerically-minded folks, I’m looking at about 3,191 new words this week. Probably a few more, maybe closer to 5,000 since I only remembered to count the last 3 days. A more accurate accounting? I am finished with Section I and now Section II. I have reached page 206.

Who knows how long Part III will take, but I’m going to barrel on and see how much I can finish before my arbitrary, crazy deadline of Sunday, April 4th. That’s a little over a week from now. Let’s see how brave I can be.

I wrote those last words before I watched the video I’m going to give you in a sec. And I’m glad I wrote them, glad I watched the video and heard them echoed in the voice of a “girl who’s already half angel.”

Shortly before I started this update, I received Nick’s latest e-mail newsletter. He hasn’t sent one for a long time. We’d talked, so I knew why. His friend Gabrielle Bouliane, a poet, died at the end of January and he knew he needed to talk about her death, but he didn’t know how. He broke my heart when he eulogized a woman I’ve never met and said, “This is what artists can do. They stop time. They hand us a photograph of a moment and it stays there because of what they did, what they said, how they moved, what they gave us. Who knows what connects us then. Call it God, energy, the universe. But something jumps out of time and seizes us and says, Look. Look right here. Record this and put it in your pocket. You’re going to need it later.”

He said a few more incredible, personal things and he gave us a link to Gabrielle’s last performance before she died. I was moved more than words can say, for all of the reasons you might imagine from the quote above. I was honored and grateful that I got to see Gabrielle perform, that technology enables us, who never knew her, to see what she said and how she moved, a miracle that has nothing on her words. Thank you, Nick, for sharing a bit of her with me. I know it was hard. As Nick said, “What I do know is that more of you should have known her. She looked like this. She sounded like this. She still does:”

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Some offBeat Progress

I had a great conversation yesterday with Eric from My Name Is John Michael. This is the band that’s featured on offBeat Magazine’s March 2010 cover – both of them. Eric said that offBeat was working really hard to print a second version of the cover in time for SXSW, which I was very, very glad to hear. The new cover is featured on offBeat‘s website and here, below:

This action, to me, satisfies offBeat‘s responsibility to the band they honored with a cover. I’m glad offBeat was willing to take this step for the band and everyone featured in the March issue.

I still feel that offBeat has an unfulfilled obligation toward their readers and I recognize this is a matter of opinion. I think the apology posted online and Jan Ramsey’s comments after the fact were pretty disrespectful to their readers. So, it’s with this in mind that I’m looking forward to seeing this addressed in next month’s issue (or in the 2nd March issue, if I can get my hands on it). But the re-issue of the March magazine has given me a lot of hope.

Most of all, I was gratified to hear from Eric that everyone’s been very supportive of My Name Is John Michael. The band was on tour when the controversy broke out last week. Driving from Athens to Asheville, the band listened to “Strange Fruit” together in the car. I loved imagining that scene and how that must have felt to the band members to experience the song together at that particular moment.

I suspect that a few more people listened to “Strange Fruit” in the past week than ordinarily would have, and some may have heard it for the very first time, and if so, that is music to my ears.

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Bragging on book, music and film friends

Barb recently won second place for fiction in the most recent Barnes and Noble Discover Awards. If you haven’t already, you really should read her book of stories More of This World or Maybe Another. Phenomenal.

Was at the local Borders recently and unexpectedly saw my friend Lindsay Rae Spurlock‘s cd on the shelves. I had to be silly and snap a picture because I was so proud. She’s been doing pretty well for herself – touring a lot and her song “November” has been featured a few times on MTV’s The Real World.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s newest, Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming: A Memoir, is available. When I interviewed her about Poor Man’s Provence, she told me about this and it sounds hilarious and compulsively readable. Nicest lady ever and incredibly talented, so check it out.

Oh, just as I’m writing this, I got an email from Amy Serrano about her film The Sugar Babies and a screening at Prytania Theater on Thursday. From the website: “The Sugar Babies examines the moral price of sugar –present and past — from the perspective of the conditions surrounding the children of sugar cane cutters of Haitian ancestry in the Dominican Republic, and the continuing denial of their basic human rights.” Purchase the movie and check out the screening schedule.

My friend David Loti’s cd Amalgam is out. Loti is a fascinating, talented guy, who was in the popular Baton Rouge band A Soup Named Stew before going solo and going up to Vancouver for seminary school. It’s a weird thing to say, but I mean it as a compliment – I continually forget that I know Loti as I’m listening to the cd. He sounds both like and unlike himself, to me, as his friend. It’s a great cd. You can listen to several of the songs online, so check it out.

And here’s some fun silliness for you. Terri, of Peauxdunque fame (where I also met Amy), had a back-and-forth with Neil Gaiman via Twitter about the local restaurant Green Goddess. Gourmands may know one of Green Goddess’s chefs Chris DeBarr for his own achievements. But literary folks like me know him as Poppy Z. Brite’s husband. Well, having eaten at Green Goddess with the Peauxdunque gang, I now know him as both chef and literary husband. Yum!

@neilhimself Lunch tomorrow at Green Goddess, NOLA. Jealous? 4:08 PM Mar 2nd

@TerriSusannah very much so. Mention the Mezze of Destruction and something nice might happen. about 1 hours ago in reply to TerriSusannah

 

@neilhimself If I could pronounce it, I would! 4:21 PM Mar 2nd

 

After seeing this back-and-forth, I followed Neil Gaiman on Twitter and was ecstatic when he talked about The Magnetic Fields, one of my favorite bands, and posted pics from behind-the-scenes at their Milwaukee show. I knew that Stephin Merritt (of The Magnetic Fields) was friends with David Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, but didn’t know about the Fields-Gaiman  connection.

@neilhimself: so jealous u’r seeing The Magnetic Fields & having lunch w Claudia! But I had lunch @ Green Goddess yesterday w @TerriSusannah

@emofalltrades jealous back. Did you ask for the mezze of destruction? 3 minutes ago in reply to emofalltrades

@neilhimself: we did! I took a picture – @TerriSusannah will probably post soon. Thank you for the code words. It was a wonderful lunch.

And just so I can end on an incredibly light, sweet (but slightly sour) note, I’d like to announce (from the rooftops, really) that Pinkberry is opening a New Orleans location!! You might remember that I begged Pinkberry to open a New Orleans location in a 2008 post after I visited New York. But Pinkberry, whhhhhhhhhhhhhhy aren’t you open yet?

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Filed under art, book news, books, bragging on, Friends, literature, movies, music, New Orleans, pop culture

Fess Up Friday – the Saturday edition

This Fess Up Friday is also my “getting back to business” edition.

It’s been a strange week.

While the new word count on The Book is probably less than 1,000 for the week, I’m up to page 163 on the latest draft. So, it’s chugging along. But despite all this progress, my week has held significant distractions. Some pleasant, some not.

Peauxdunque (my writer’s group) had an informal lunch at Green Goddess to celebrate Sabrina’s birthday. I’ve rarely felt so relaxed and yet inspired as I do with these people, which is probably just what one needs from a writing group. I spent most of that day running errands, so did not get any work done on The Book.

And then there was the offBeat Magazine debacle, which sucked up a large part of my Thursday and Friday, in responding, discussing and just plain shaking. How to describe what about 36 hours of solid anger and frustration feels like in my body? Well, there were more emotions pinging around in there than even I realized. Still are, but I’m lucky and happy to be back in a place where I can work despite them, at least.

So while do not in any way intend to back down from my opposition to the cover and the aftermath reaction displayed by offBeat‘s editor, Jan Ramsey, I’m glad to get back to my work. While I’m gratified to see that people are reading and responding to the three posts I’ve written about offBeat‘s cover and their editor’s behavior, I’m just as gratified to see that the post generating the most traffic on my blog is the same one that’s been generating the most traffic since October. I would like to see a constructive resolution to the entire scenario and hope the magazine endeavors to find one that demonstrates respect for their audience.

Meanwhile, Maurice told me I had to read The Time Traveler’s Wife and I’m enjoying it far more than I expected. Especially since I didn’t think I had time to enjoy a 500+ page book right now. I look forward to celebrating the success of my friends, so look for a bragging on post very soon.

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The offBeat “lynchings” and apology

It’s so ingrained not to speak up. Don’t make waves. Don’t rock the boat. But despite the waves of anger, disappointment and frustration since yesterday after seeing the offBeat cover, I can’t regret talking about how this cover makes me feel and what it makes me think.

Today, it feels really good to see the outrage is shared. In the microcosm world of my coffee shop, I knew we all had negative, visceral reactions to the cover, but now the response is coming from other New Orleans media, from other cities and it’s so good to have company.

Jamey, of course, responded last night.

Today, I saw a response from the wonderful Missy Wilkinson in The Gambit. The comments here were fascinating.

[3.11.10: Recently, I heard privately from a musician friend and after our discussion, I’m not sure I was clear about one point here on this post. The phrase “offBeat lynchings” is not my own, though I used it in full knowledge that it would probably grab attention. “Offbeat lynchings” was one of the most popular search trends people used to find my blog and, I can only assume, other discussions of the March offBeat cover. I thought that might’ve been clear by the tweet below, where I addressed offBeat and let them know about the search trends I’d seen about the controversy. Sure enough, I believe it did encourage a response.]

After noticing the search trends on my stats page today, I tweeted offBeat (one of several tweets since yesterday):

@OffBeatMagazine: I think you should know people are searching “offbeat magazine lynchings” and “offbeat magazine racist march” today. about 2 hours ago via web

Around the same time as this tweet, offBeat linked to an online apology in three back-to-back tweets:

Please see our apology about this month’s cover: http://bit.ly/dgLXfw about 1 hours ago via web

@emofalltrades please see our apology: http://bit.ly/dgLXfw. we’re really sorry for the insensitive decision we made with our cover text about 1 hours ago via web in reply to emofalltrades

@jameyhatley please see our apology here: http://bit.ly/dgLXfw. we’re very sorry for the insensitive decision we made about 1 hours ago via web in reply to jameyhatley

offBeat‘s publisher and editor, Jan Ramsey commented on my first post about their cover today:

Everyone here realizes we made a huge mistake. But we have way too much respect for music and musicians to have run this cover as a means to create controversy. That’s just disgusting. Being accused of being racist is blowing this faux pas so out of proportion, it’s ridiculous. I resent OffBeat being labeled as racist by anyone. It’s obvious to me that you’re getting a big kick our of keeping this bullshit going. Ah, the venality of our public. For 23 years, I’ve busted my butt trying to create someting positive about local music in OffBeat…way before any other pub into town took music seriously. So dismissing what we’ve done with a quickie label of racism is taking a lot for granted and is just plain stupid when you consider 23 years of work. Too bad you’ve never written for us Emilie, as I am sure you would never make such an egregious error as this one, right? Our “black eye” (oops, was that racist?) is certainly generating more traffic for your blog, now isn’t it? Why don’t you let us apologize and get on with your blog?

Still dissatisfied with both the apology and Jan’s comment because neither address what the intentions behind the “Strange Fruit” title were, I responded:

Dear Jan,

Thanks for writing.

Yes, my response to your “faux pas” is driving traffic on my blog. As well as your website, your Twitter account and etc. While I regret giving so much attention to something so ugly, I had so many negative reactions to your cover that I felt I had to say something. As I state, part of the reason I was so offended is that I have always appreciated the quality of offBeat Magazine and I felt that you have let yourselves, and us, down.

While I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt that the cover was a “faux pas,” I find it really hard to believe that among the educated editorial panel, no one suggested this may be a problematic, controversial juxtaposition. I am happy to hear you say your intentions weren’t to incite controversy. I’d merely like to know what the intentions were.

Thank you for the link to your apology on Twitter, as well. I appreciate the thoughtfulness in the response. However, I’m still left with questions.

First, you say in your online apology, “We believed that in 2010, the phrase “strange fruit” could be used without automatically evoking the Billie Holiday song and its subject matter. This was an error in judgment for which we apologize.” I’m still left wondering what you wanted to evoke with the phrase “Strange Fruit,” and what connection you felt it had to the article inside?

Second, will there be a printed apology? Would you consider re-issuing the March issue with a less offensive and more appropriate headline? I believe that retracting and repairing a “faux pas” of this caliber should require a genuine and, if necessary, costly, effort to demonstrate good faith to readers and everybody associated with the magazine, including contributors, the musicians profiled and advertisers. Please tell us with your actions, as well as your words, that this will not happen again.

Again, I thank you for your response.

Emilie

As I’m writing this, a table of students at the coffee shop are talking about the cover, outraged. One guy stands up while the others sit, waving the March issue and explaining the song “Strange Fruit” to the others and its imagery about lynching. I hear one girl say, “How could they be so stupid?!”

Since I saw the cover yesterday, I have managed to work on my book and write a more light-hearted bragging on post. I tried to distract myself so that it wouldn’t consume all of my time and mind. But, as I told Jamey today on Twitter:

@jameyhatley: I had to keep a notebook by me till about 5 a.m. this morning b/c my mind was whrrrrrring. about 1 hours ago via web

I have never mentioned the band pictured on the cover by name, purposefully. I don’t want to contribute to their name popping up side by side in search engines with charged phrases like “offBeat lynchings.” The band has tweeted today about the cover and the apology.

@emofalltrades @jameyhatley I hope you are understanding that we are as equally perturbed as you are about this unfornuate situation. 6 minutes ago via Tweetie in reply to emofalltrades

Me to them:

so glad to hear from you! and so sorry you’ve been associated with this. you’ve been put in an untenable position. rock on! less than 10 seconds ago via web

I would like to, as Jan suggests in her comment, “get on with my blog,” which does not usually take on this tone. When my stomach stops churning from anger and frustration, when it somehow feels more appropriate, I’ll post the bragging on post because I enjoy celebrating rather than condemning. I hope this is my last post about this ugly matter.

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I’m still angry, you’re still wrong – a second letter to the editor

Dear offBeat Magazine,

It is 1998. I am a teenage girl visiting an elderly friend of my father’s with my family, visiting him at his home (north Louisiana) from our home (just north of Atlanta). I have grown up “color blind” (with the luxury to be color blind, as a black friend later tells me) and am shocked when my father’s friend makes a racist comment. Children are supposed to respect their elders and be seen and not heard. I am silent, but I lose respect for my father’s friend.

It is 2008. I am an adult, at a house party in New Orleans, where I now live, when a teenager from my hometown (just north of Atlanta, where I grew up “color blind”) eyes the all-white audience and tells a racist joke. I suppose she felt that because she was not among “mixed” company, it was safe, somehow appropriate. And no one tells her differently. I am silent. I have lost respect for her for telling the joke and I have lost respect for myself for saying nothing.

I’m speaking now.

offBeat – I am your reader. I am a citizen of New Orleans. I am white. I love music. And I find the cover of your March 2010 issue offensive and reprehensible. Not only have I read your magazine, but I’ve pitched you stories, hoping to write for you. When my lucky musical friends have been featured in your prestigious pages, I have celebrated them and supported the magazine. But I refuse to let you make me implicit in your ignorance, your racism, your utter disregard for your words by using none of mine. I will not allow you to implicate me by remaining silent.

Why do I object to the cover of your magazine?

The headline “Strange Fruit” when paired with your chosen image of the profiled band is incendiary. Had the article inside been somehow racially charged or had the band covered the song “Strange Fruit,” I could almost understand the use of the title. I might have thought you were trying to provoke discussion and thought. Even if I disagreed with your method and what you were saying, I would have respected you for trying to say something. But “Strange Fruit” refers to nothing within the article and, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the profiled band.

“Strange Fruit” is a famous song that immediately invokes a powerful, horrifying image of lynched black bodies hanging from trees–strange fruit. An image that your cover visual seems to mock, with the six white guys smilingly hanging from monkey bars/jungle gym. I can see no reason or intention for the title to be paired with this article except to incite response. Yet, it seems you expect to get off the hook (off the tree, offBeat?) with nothing more than a limp Twitter apology. Back to business as usual?

If your audience knows what “Strange Fruit” refers to (and what serious Southern musician or listener wouldn’t?), the juxtaposed image can only offend. If your audience doesn’t know the song or its context, the headline wouldn’t grab their attention or make any sense, in which case, it simply fails.

At best, offBeat, you are guilty of an ignorance of musical history a self-described “Louisiana and New Orleans Online Music Resource” can’t afford. At worst, you are intentionally inciting offense, shock and outrage in an unprofessional and intolerant gambit for more readers. For attention.

An action that shocks and offends and outrages has no meaning without intent.

In your “apology,” you claim that your intentions were benign, which admits to intent, not ignorance, in your presentation of your most recent cover. What was the intent? I fail to see one that merits my attention or respect. If your intentions were benign, defend them. If there was intent in the design of your cover, reveal it.

offBeat, I was your reader. You have disappointed me. I demand and deserve an answer. As long as you remain silent, you have lost my respect and my readership.

Sincerely,

Emilie Staat

To my readers: If you have something to say about this cover, please speak. offBeat Magazine prefers letters to the editor to be mailed. Their address is: 421 Frenchmen St. Suite 200 New Orleans, LA 70116. You can email the editorial staff at the email addresses I list in my first post about this cover. A link to their Twitter account is listed above, in the body of the letter to the editor. If you have anything to say to me, please speak in the comments below or at emiliestaat@yahoo.com. As always, I’d like to hear you.

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Filed under music, New Orleans, politics

This is not funny or appropriate

Below, I’m posting my letter to the editor of offBeat Magazine, the preeminent New Orleans music magazine. They’ve recently shown such a tragic lack of sensitivity and journalistic responsibility and awareness, that I simply have to remark upon it. I will not post the cover of the most recent issue on my blog, as I find it repulsively offensive. But Jamey has it up, along with a bit of her response, on her blog and I will link to it, so you can join the discussion. And I hope you will. Loudly.

From: emiliestaat@yahoo.com
To: offbeat@offbeat.com
Cc: janramsey@offbeat.com, eslahahne@offbeat.com, josephirrera@offbeat.com, alexrawls@offbeat.com

Dear offBeat Staff,

I was shocked, shocked and offended, to see the “Strange Fruit” headline on an image of six white guys hanging from a jungle gym. Whoever designed and approved this cover – what were they thinking? Were they thinking? Or worse, did they have no clue what they were referring to? “What’s in a name, indeed,” a friend said to me as we discussed it today. I fear that this offensive cover threatens to overcome any good the story was intended to do for the band.

The song “Strange Fruit” refers to the bodies of lynched black people hanging from trees. I’d expect a music magazine to understand the history of a song like this, as it’s not exactly obscure, as well as the implications of using this song title as a headline over the image of white guys hanging from a jungle gym. But perhaps that’s too much to hope.

Shame on the entire editorial staff.

Emilie Staat

It’s an even more horrifyingly ironic note that this comes right on the heels of Black History Month. I honestly don’t know how this cover passed any sort of editorial review and why anybody imagined “Strange Fruit” was an appropriate title for this cover.

7:12 p.m. Update:

offBeat had this to say on Twitter: @KAMMsTheACE intentions were COMPLETELY benign, but it was poor choice of words. we understand if we offended, and sincerely apologize. about 3 hours ago via web in reply to KAMMsTheACE

And I had this to say to them:
@OffBeatMagazine: I’ve been beating round the bush. Your cover is not just irresponsible. It’s racist. https://emiliestaat.wordpress.com/ 3 minutes ago via web

@OffBeatMagazine: You say the intentions were benign & I think you owe us an explanation. What WERE your intentions? 1 minute ago via web

@OffBeatMagazine: You let the band, your advertisers and your readers waaaay down and I want to know why. What response did you want? half a minute ago via web

Unfortunately, after the “Twitterversy” that the Publisher’s Weekly “Afro Picks” cover may have caused, I’m afraid that a rabid, viral offended response might have been what offBeat Magazine was going for. We’ve seen time and again that it doesn’t always matter these days what people are saying about you, as long as they’re talking. Yuck.

I haven’t seen a response from the band on their website or on Twitter. I wonder how they feel about the cover image and headline.

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Filed under New Orleans, politics, pop culture, random rant