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Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

An Absolute Truth: On Writing a Life of Coltrane

June 3, 2014 | by


A few years ago I found a used, first-edition hardcover of Dr. Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins’s 1975 book, Coltrane: A Biography, online for $150. I had long admired its feverish, street-pulpy story about the saxophonist John Coltrane, whose powerful music increasingly seemed capable of altering one’s consciousness before he died in 1967, at age forty. Posthumously, the mythology and exaltation of Coltrane, as well as his musical influence, only grew. But by that point, Simpkins had already researched and written Coltrane’s story, expressing an uncompromising, unapologetic black voice rarely found in the annals of jazz before or since.

I forked up the money for the hardback. The dust jacket bears an impressionistic black-and-white painting of Coltrane playing soprano saxophone. The rounded, sans serif font resembles that of Soul Train, the popular TV show that premiered in 1971. On the back cover is a photograph of a young, Simpkins sporting a West African dashiki shirt, a high Afro, thick sideburns, and a beard.

Simpkins’s idea for the book was conceived during his senior year at Amherst, in 1969; he worked on it during breaks from Harvard Medical School in the early seventies. Simpkins possessed no credentials in jazz or literature. The publisher of the original hardcover is Herndon House; quick Google and Library of Congress searches yield no other books from that publisher. There are identical typographical errors in all three editions—first and second hardback, and paperback. (Sarah Vaughan’s name, for instance, is spelled once as “Vaughn,” and Nesuhi Ertegun appears as “Nehusi.”) All indications point to the book having been self-published, the original piece preserved in two later editions. Read More »


An Urgent Message

February 21, 2014 | by

(1)An Urgent Message, Washington, DC

Bob Adelman, An Urgent Message, Washington, DC, 1963, Courtesy of the Photographer


Bob Adelman, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Outside Montgomery on the Fourth Day of the March, Alabama Route 80, 1965, Courtesy of the Photographer

(3) CORE Worker Mimi Feingold and Local Residents Singing at the End of the Day, St. Francisville, West Feliciana Parish, LA

Bob Adelman, CORE Worker Mimi Feingold and Local Residents Singing at the End of the Day, St. Francisville, West Feliciana Parish, LA, 1963, Courtesy of the Photographer


Bob Adelman, On the Frosted Window of a Freedom Ride Bus Between New York and Washington, DC, 1961, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the Photographer


Bob Adelman, Segregated Movie Theater, Birmingham, AL, 1963, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the Photographer


Bob Adelman, Marcher with Flag, Alabama Route 80, 1965, Digital c-print, Courtesy of the Photographer

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Bob Adelman, Nighttime Demonstration in Support of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, with
Images of Slain Civil Rights Workers Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, Atlantic City, NJ
, 1964, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the photographer.

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Bob Adelman, Marking a Ballot, Camden, AL, 1966, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the photographer.


Bob Adelman, CORE Volunteer Helping an Older Woman Learn to Fill Out a Voter Registration Form, East Feliciana Parish, LA, 1963, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the photographer.


Marco Grob, Bob Adelman.

Bob Adelman’s amazing photographs—the majority of them black-and-white prints—fill the second floor of the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, where they will be on display until May 17. He photographed what came to be significant moments in the civil rights movement as they were happening. As a photographer for CORE, SNCC, Life magazine, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he was on the scene for moments both momentous and not, to photograph Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and also never-to-be-famous individuals, families, children—people we wouldn’t have seen again, had Adelman not been there to show them on the sidelines as well as in the forefront, their eyes their own camera lenses, looking back; exiting “White Men Only” bathrooms at the courthouse in Clinton, Louisiana; and then kids who climbed up in a tree to view the memorial service of Dr. King, attended by Robert Kennedy (what a portrait of grief), who’d be dead himself only months later. As a documentary photographer, nothing stopped Bob. It was dangerous work, as was pointed out by one of the speakers at the January 19 museum opening, but Bob found inequality inexplicable and insupportable. In his college years, he studied philosophy to try to figure out the point of being alive. In the civil rights movement, he found his answer.

Don’t miss (not that you could) the enormous enlargement of the contact sheet from when Bob was first focusing on the police’s attempt to blast away protestors in Birmingham by aiming fire hoses at them. It gives you a chance to see the photographer’s mind at work, frame after frame, and is unforgettable as an image, the people holding hands, some with their hats not yet knocked off, in Kelly Ingram Park, struggling to remain upright in the blast, a fierce, watery tornado that obliterates the sky as it seems to become a simultaneously beautiful and malicious backdrop that obliterates the world. The large photograph in the museum took two days to print. Dr. King, upon first seeing Bob’s photograph: “I am startled that out of so much pain some beauty came.”

Ann Beattie’s story “Janus” was included in John Updike’s The Best American Short Stories of the Century.



A Week in Culture: Jesse Moss, Part 2

September 9, 2010 | by

DAY FOUR, San Francisco

Visiting my father in Noe Valley, kids in tow. He announces his latest obsession. The founder of the Chinese Film Industry was a jew from Odessa named Benjamin Brodsky. My father’s planning to visit Beijing in October, and has secured permission from the Chinese State Film Archives to look at Brodsky’s papers. Apparently Brodsky lived through the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco and may have owned a chain of Nickleodeons. If Brodsky hadn’t existed, I wonder if my father might have invented him, as he conveniently embodies all his obsessions: early cinema, China, and Jewish identity. I google Brodsky and discover someone’s just made a documentary about him. Scooped.

On the coffee table, an old issue of Ramparts magazine. In his early, radical days, my father was an editor at Ramparts’ publishing imprint, and edited Richard Boyle’s Vietnam War memoir, Flower of the Dragon. Boyle was a wild-man, the inspiration for Oliver Stone’s Salvador. He used to come stay at our house and play marathon war games with my older brother, elaborate mock battles (The Siege of Khe Sanh was one) with toy soldiers on the living room floor.

It’s the July 13, 1968 issue of Ramparts. I read “Why We Lost the War,” an interview with the French General André Beaufre. The first question is “How do you explain why the most powerful, best armed and supposedly best informed nation in history could not achieve success in ground fighting?” I’ve just seen the Afghan war documentary Restrepo, by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington and read Junger’s companion book, War. The question echoes strongly. Counter-insurgency strategy has come to seem like nothing more than pseudo-science to me, 21st Century phrenology and publishing a manual about it doesn’t mean it works.

I browse an article about little retailers fighting big chain stores, and a piece about the brutality of the Oakland Police Force. All strikingly current subjects for a 42 year-old magazine. The ads however, are pure nostalgia (“Nudism Explained”). I find them oddly compelling, like the ads for strange novelties in old comic books, a window into an alternate universe.

I flip through a catalogue for a 1978 exhibition of Dorothea Lange’s photographs at the Oakland Museum. The photos are beautiful. An alchemy of art and propaganda.

Dinner at the Universal Café, a foodie outpost in the outer Mission. We stare at the menu and talk about food. My wife accuses my father of being a self-hating foodie. On our last visit he proclaimed himself sick of talking about food with his foodie friends. He would eat it, he said, but not talk about it. But of course, like everyone here, he can’t help himself. I hail my wife for coining the phrase.

At Clooney’s Pub, a Lesbian dive-bar in Bernal Heights, we celebrate our friend Eric’s birthday. Eric and his girlfriend Amanda have just seen Dark Passage, the Delmer Daves film noir, with Bogart and Bacall. We talk noir, and Nightfall the Aldo Ray film we saw at the Film Forum.

We drive down to Old Bayshore Road to Silver Crest Donut Shop. It’s Eric’s birthday tradition. In the parking lot, he warns us to expect trouble in the donut shop bar. I think, what donut shop has a bar? It’s a rough place, in a rough part of town. The Greek bartender greets us warmly, and pours six shots of Ouzo. On the jukebox, I put in a quarter and select a track called simply: “Greek Music.” The shots are free. We chase the Ouzo with huge, greasy, delicious donuts. Read More »