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August 08, 2005

The Almost Collective

Something I just finished by Jimi Izrael has made me change my mind. That, and several other things have conspired to make me drop the idea I said I was going to take up in the blog - that of 'relationships'. As he was writing about Danyel Smith, which took me around the 'sphere to Mark Neal and Bomani Jones, I thought about my old buddy Sheryl Huggins and the black literary collective that never was in the New York of my dreams.

It just so happens that I considered doing an open mic performance yesterday. So I sat for two hours in my empty house and read aloud all the poetry I had written oh so many years ago. This time, unlike times previous, I wasn't afraid to edit it and make it better. As well, with a fresh face, I wasn't afraid at all to call a great deal of it stinky. In all the time I was reading, I never once thought about Sheryl Huggins and that's a damned shame.

You see, Sheryl was my sort-of muse in Brooklyn. She was the brains behind a magazine called Shade. It was going to be the sophisticated urban upscale fashion and culture magazine that was going to rip a chic hole in the space-time continuum of America. It didn't. You haven't heard of Shade Magazine have you? I wasn't much help. In the moments where I could have and perhaps should have made the hookups real with Greg Tate, Sekou Sundiata, Omar Wasow, Lisa Jones and others interesting, I walked on bourgie eggshells. I was writing poetry and love songs for them and people like them. People like the 22 of you who read this blog - a discerning minority on the fringes of the margin. It's not that I didn't have the heart, but that I didn't have the audience and I couldn't wish it to be any larger than it was, or is. I look at my poetry today and know what I wanted people to know and feel. It's still raw and powerful under the surface, but I ran out of motivation to polish it. I found Sheryl when Shade was failing and the bank officers were calling. That's what kept me out of it all. Shade was a debt as big as a house in California and I knew I wasn't prepared to play in that league. Not with mine or with other people's money.

I looked around the offices of Shade. It was a PeeWee's playhouse of magazine clippings, artwork and a thousand snippets of creativity for which my vocabulary had no buckets. The office was shared with McLean Greaves who lived in some corner of nirvana unapproachable by negroes beyond arms distance. The entire setup had the aura of gorgeous futility, a tragic kind of beautiful stillborn thing. Whenever Sheryl entered the joint, her brow knit up like a crumpled lunchbag. We wanted to be the substrate of desire of new black dreams, all that and gay friendly too. Sheryl took me to upper-eastside poetry readings and cafes. We met genuine African-American Wall Street types with genuine African business connections. If we could only put it all together. But my arms were too short. The cash wasn't flowing. The audience wasn't listening. We were the hip center of a universe in which there was no gravity.

My uncle once told me "Hollywood is like any other business, except the people are twice as flaky." That was a night we sat up waiting for a phone call from Stevie Wonder. Everything is possible but nothing is real. The reality of the failure of Shade pushed me over the edge into the punk zone of cultural production. What are the chances that I would want to mortgage half a million to build a big glossy instantiation of black high culture? It all seemed suddenly impossible. There was no chance for melioration in text and graphics - all we could do was go to the right parties and catch the vibe face to face.

It intensified my longing for the purest literary endeavors. Serious people read, they didn't need to be seduced.

A great deal of my vehemence against hiphop has to do with Sheryl's debt. In the days when people were still shocked about a group like Onyx, in the days when Spike Lee was about as controversial as anybody black could possibly be, there was a time when people held out hope for the enlightenment of all my folks, as Speech of Arrested Development once said. Before the New Media had names like Razorfish, when the NetNoir deal was all the rage - there was strong component of faith that those of us on the funded side of the digital divide might make a bridge. But there are always the millions who don't care, and they are always willing to drop 17 dollars worth of respect. That's 17 million we never got, and probably never will.

I'm not going to write in this blog about boys and girls. I already know that anybody who's ready for gay marriage finds the concept of sanctity ridiculous. I'm not even trying to convince them. I'm not going into any debt to try and elevate with elegance - either we'll meet at the same party or we won't. I had felt, for a moment, a sense of obligation to the fatherless millions who are my African American brothers. But now is not the time to talk about love or high culture. I leave that for another day, perhaps for Lucifer Jones. How you get your inspiration, I'm sorry, that's your business. I bled that gallon 14 years ago.

The last we heard from Sheryl was NiaOnline.com. I hope you have landed softly Sheryl, whereever you are. I'm sorry I never had the million bucks.

Posted by mbowen at August 8, 2005 02:17 PM

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