Tag Archive | "David Bowie"

The Soul of Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Contemplative

She cries, “Where have all Papa’s heroes gone?”
(David Bowie, Young Americans)


Recorded in 1974, Bowie’s incisive take on the American landscape included references to racism and Rosa Park’s renowned ride.  In penning that song, and particularly the line above, Bowie may very well have had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in mind.  By 1968, we had lost three of our most fearless and selfless visionaries to cowardly assassins: President Jack Kennedy, his brother, U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, and Dr. King.  When the news of Dr. King’s murder hit, like a blow to my gut, I mourned him piteously.


For days, I wept for this irreplaceable loss.  My middle-class, all white, New York family could not understand why their child, who had only seen the Southern black activist in the news, was inconsolable.  I had not done this for Jack, and I would not do this for Bobby — both of whom I had greatly admired.  In my youth and in my grief, I lacked the words to explain how Dr. King had touched me.  Perhaps I still lack that eloquence.  But my deep and abiding respect for Dr. King compels me to try to craft an explanation.


As the student of a forward-thinking nun striving to steep her pupils in current events (and in some instances, making us active participants in them), I was aware of the struggle for racial equality.  I wasn’t sheltered from the violence in the news; I knew who Doctor King was, and was aware of his justifiable cause.  A Christian and a Catholic, I was raised to respect people of all nationalities and races, and taught by my family, prior to my formal education, to understand that this was Jesus’ wish.  But it was not until I had seen Dr. King from the comfort of my living room, as he confronted the nation during his 1963 march on Washington, that I truly understood the heart of his mission — and in fact, the heart of this great man.


Not yet eight years old, I was enthralled by the Doctor’s very bearing.  His demeanor, his erudite speech, the dignity in the way that he simply stood behind the microphone demanded respect in a very quiet, yet immensely powerful way.  When he said the following words, I understood at soul level what he was attempting to achieve. 


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”


Suddenly, Dr. King’s simple and profound statement crystallized everything for me.  In my mind’s eye, I imagined how my little sister, my friends, my classmates, and I might suffer if we had been judged simply because we’d been white.  I envisioned the depth and longevity of that suffering, had we been born black.   It all made sense: complete and utter and inarguable sense.  After all these years, having read Dr. King’s articulate letters and his very moving autobiography, as edited by Clayborne Carson, nothing that this great man has ever said has captured my heart as that one statement made in August 1963.  Somehow, Dr. King has inspired me to be a better person.  I will never be the person that he was, but he remains one of my enduring heroes; in fact, he set the standard of role models for me.


Some of the more salient but perhaps lesser-known facts that I would like to share with you concerning our finest civil rights leader include the following:


●       He did not seek the Presidency of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; in fact, he tried several times to pass that responsibility to someone else.  He felt he was unworthy.  But his colleagues would not stand down, and thank God they did not.


●       When Dr. King’s house was bombed with his wife and his firstborn child, two-month-old Yoli inside, he struggled deeply with his convictions.  On one hand, his people and indeed the entire nation needed him.  Racists were trampling the very tenants of our Constitution – that which protects the freedoms of every American.  On the other hand, as a husband and a father, he was obligated to protect his family.  One night, Dr. King rose from his bed, tormented by the awful decision he had to make.  Sitting at the kitchen table, he bowed his head, begging the Lord for direction.  Suddenly, a profound sense of peace washed over him, and he knew the path he must take, as well as the sacrifices that lay ahead of him.


●       Although she went for long periods without her husband to help raise their four children, Coretta Scott King supported him staunchly every step of the way.  In fact, one of the reasons Martin fell in love with Coretta was because of her dedication-in-action to assist her people to achieve the equality promised them under U.S. law.


●       In his living room, above the table at which he shared meals with his family, hung a photograph of “Mahatma” Gandhi.  A similar photo hung in Dr. King’s office, but the fact that he’d honored the Indian leader quietly, within his own home, spoke volumes of his approach to his mission.   Unfailingly, Dr. King exhorted his followers not to take up arms against their oppressors: not to land a single blow or fire a single bullet.  Like Gandhi, he favored “passive resistance” and like Jesus Christ, he turned the other cheek, again and again and again.  This, despite the fact that he’d predicted he would one day be assassinated for his part in the struggle for racial equality.


●       Jack Kennedy assisted Dr. King in his quest, but it was Bobby Kennedy who was truly committed to the Doctor’s cause.  JFK’s younger brother tirelessly served as communiqué/advocate between the President and the civil rights leader.     


●      After Birmingham, Alabama’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed in September of 1963, leaving six dead, including four young girls, Dr. King pressured Jack into a radical act.  Jack, who was in King’s corner all along, argued that he’d need another two years to market a complete civil rights bill to Congress.  Refusing to take “No” for an answer, and without resorting to violence or even threatening it, Dr. King convinced the President of the United States to reverse Alabama Governor George Wallace’s aggressive enforcement of segregation in that State’s schools.


●       Jack’s successor, President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) strengthened Kennedy’s position less than a year later by signing The Public Acclamation and Fair Employment section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  LBJ offered the pen he had used to Dr. King, who accepted it gratefully.  Moved beyond words, the activist and future Nobel Peace Prize winner would later say that the pen represented his greatest possession.


●       Doctor King had primarily organized and marched in Birmingham, Alabama, as “That is where the fight is at its strongest.”  In Birmingham, at the behest of Police Commissioner Bull Connor, and as executed by his staff and supporters, King and his people suffered many injustices and horrors, culminating in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Church.


After a thirteen-year struggle, was Doctor King’s dream realized?  Yes, it was.  Are we still fighting it?  Yes, we are.  Here at home, and in all parts of the world, we still fight injustice in all its guises. The missions of human rights organizations such as Amnesty International prove that we do, and prove that we must.  We still rail against the crushing of the human spirit, against the theft of inalienable rights.  And, some of us do so through the timeless beauty and power of music.


In November of 1968, Dion’s gentle Abraham, Martin, and John entered the Billboard charts.  Eleven years after Bowie launched Young Americans, a rising Irish group called U2 released two songs in Dr. King’s honor.  Pride (in the Name of Love) is a rousing testimony to my hero’s vision and sacrifice; MLK is a gentle, haunting, spiritual paean.


Two decades after U2’s musical testimonies, I happened to catch a young, unsigned musician-singer-songwriter on a program I’d never before seen: American Idol.  As Taylor Hicks introduced his cover of Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City, the tears tracked unchecked down my face. With great tenderness, Taylor explained that the song reminded him of his city back home.  I cried because, between the time that Dr. King had fought his fight and the time that this episode of Idol aired, much had changed in the city of Birmingham.  The color line was no longer tolerated.  Hicks’ musical sensibilities, in fact, had been forged upon those of soul greats such as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and the inimitable Ray Charles: gifted black artists, all.


When I flew to Birmingham for the second time in September 2009, I noticed a small monument in the Birmingham International Airport erected to honor Dr. King.  I have a dear cousin firmly entrenched in Birmingham, a former New Yorker whose heart lies in the Deep South; I love him dearly.  My primary purpose, however, in flying many miles was to experience two amazing concerts by Taylor Hicks.  The moment that I spied the brown marble monument in the airport’s lobby, I pulled my friend Pam over to it and made her read it, even as my own eyes blurred with tears.   Carved into the marble was a quote from the great Doctor King, and I’m sorry, but I cannot remember the exact words.  They were, however, his perspective as to how every human being is truly connected.


With the lines of justice, and the lines of history – national, musical, and familial — crisscrossing there, on that day and in that city, I was reminded once again of how very right my hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, was.  Regardless of skin color, religious affiliation, nationality, or any other factor, we are indeed all connected.  And we always will be.

Going GaGa

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The performer known today as Lady GaGa began her life as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta on March 28, 1986 in New York City.  Of Italian heritage, she was the first child welcomed by Joseph and Cynthia Germanotta.  At the age of 11, having demonstrated a talent for music, her parents considered enrolling her in the prestigious Julliard School of Music in the city of her birth.  Tradition won out and instead, Stefani entered the Convent of the Scared Heart, a private Roman Catholic school, which would prove to have little influence upon her.

Shortly after her thirteenth birthday, the singer with the stoic stage presence wrote her first piano ballad and unveiled it at local talent shows.  Four years later, New York University’s Tisch School of Arts accepted her into their music program, where she improved her songwriting skills.  At the age of 19, she opted out of the program to focus on her career rather than her studies.

Striking out on her own, she performed in clubs on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with Mackin Pulsifer and the SG Band. With a repertoire that highlighted burlesque and a lifestyle that embraced drug abuse, the girl scandalized her father and turned her nose up at her Catholic school education.

Nicknamed GaGa by music producer Rob Fusari in honor of the Queen song, Radio Ga Ga, Stef adopted Lady GaGa as her stage name.   In 2007, she teamed up with Lady Starlight for gigs in New York’s downtown clubs, where the duo was billed as Lady GaGa and the Starlight Revue. Promoting themselves as “The Ultimate Pop Burlesque Rock Show,” the pair performed a tribute to variety acts of the 1970’s.  They went on to earn high accolades for their performance at the Lollapalooza music festival.

Finding her niche, Lady GaGa incorporated the music of David Bowie and Queen into her mix, thereby joining the scores of the uninventive claiming to “sample” other artists’ music when in truth, they rip it off.  She also claimed Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Brittany Spears as influences.  Discovered by producer-singer-songwriter and former car thief Akon at Interscope Records, she inked a joint deal with Jim Iovine and Akon’s label, Kon Live Distribution, where Akon dubbed her his franchised player.  Lady GaGa began using her own material to launch her debut album with producer RedOne.  Boys, Boys, Boys was the first song that they produced.

In 2008, she relocated to Los Angeles to finalize her debut album, The Fame.  Its urban tracks combined Def Leppard-like drums with metallic handclaps.  GaGa also collaborated with a collective, called the Haus of GaGa, which selected her clothing, or lack thereof, as well as stage sets and sounds (so much for musical artistry).  The Fame received positive reviews from Metacritic and was described by Times Online as “fantastic.” The CD achieved #1 status in Austria, the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland, netting worldwide sales of three million copies. 

Following her success in foreign markets, the Haus of GaGa’s image mavens focused on U.S. audiences.  They double billed GaGa on her first concert tour with her label mates, the newest incarnation of New Kids on the Block (who aren’t kids, by a long shot).  The tour that ran for approximately two months (from October 8th to late November, 2008) led to The Fame Ball Tour of North America.  This kicked off in March 2009 to critical acclaim.  In the immortal words of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, “There is no accounting for some people’s tastes.”

On her World Domination Tour, GaGa opened for the Pussycat Dolls in the U.K. and Australia, where she was well received. One reviewer claimed that she upstaged the headliners. As the Dolls’ chief claim to fame is not their vocalizing but their soft porn stage gyrations, this speaks volumes for GaGa’s performance.  In fact, GaGa’s MTV “Love Game” was banned from Australia’s Network 10 for its sexually explicit imagery.  It’s good to see that there are some morals and musical taste alive somewhere in the world.

GaGa also appeared semi-nude on the May 2009 cover of Rolling Stone’s Hot 100, thus joining the myriad near-bare bods, male and female, that have graced those covers since the early ’90’s.  In that issue, she stated that early in her career, she fell in love with a heavy metal drummer in a New York club, who served as her inspiration while writing music in her later years. She also stated that she was bi-sexual and is inspired by beautiful women.  This revelation makes her male friends uncomfortable and me somewhat doubtful, remembering when Elton John referred to himself as bisexual before stepping fully out of the closet.  In the same interview, GaGa insisted, “I am not using the gay community to look edgy. I’m a free sexual woman and I like what I like.”

After many tours, Lady GaGa received nine accolades at the MTV Video Music Awards.  These include Video of the Year, Best Female Artist, Best Pop Video for Poker Face, Best Direction, Best Editing, Best Special Effects, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction for Paparazzi.  Following her appearance at the Royal Variety Performance in London earlier this year, she had the honor of meeting Queen Elizabeth II.  I would have paid to have been a fly on that wall.

A far cry from her modest upbringing, the former Stefani Germanotta embodies an old Italian saying used to discuss one’s children.  “Almeno lei non fuma” translates as “At least she doesn’t smoke.” 

Ch-ch-changes in Career Strategies

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David Bowie montage

Has it crossed your mind to wonder why contemporary legends David Bowie and Madonna are still holding their own quite nicely against their much younger, hipper musical counterparts?  Hint: both the Thin White Duke and the Material Girl are savvy business people as well as artists.  To retain their competitive edge in an industry whose consumers have an insatiable appetite for what is new and different, they have continually reinvented themselves.  Both have taken serious risks in keeping their material and stage personas if not completely fresh, then at least a bit out of the mainstream, using approaches that keep audiences coming back for more.   Thirty-five years after his glam-rock Scary Spiders from Mars days, Bowie is still a crafty, talented songwriter and a consummate performer with a very respectable following.  For her part, Madonna recently came off a tour touted to be the highest grossing ever by a single artist.  Not bad for a rocker in his ’60’s and a punk ballerina past the half-century mark.


What Bowie, Madonna, and others like them who thrive beyond the lifecycle of the typical entertainer understand is that each of them is not merely a performer but a brand.  Performers are usually renowned for a particular talent and that talent is customarily associated with a particular niche or genre within the entertainment industry.  One-dimensional in nature, they usually fall out of favor with the public as tastes change and audiences become enamored of newer, fresher performers – usually younger and perceived as more physically attractive as well.


Brands, on the other hand, are often multi-dimensional – encompassing multiple products appealing to diverse consumers and markets.  By introducing new products, they continually reinvent themselves, expand their market base, and appeal to new generations of consumers.  And therefore, brands have a level of permanency that individuals can rarely hope to achieve.  Consider such household names as Disney, Johnson & Johnson, Sony, Verizon, and Apple.  Although each gained notoriety for a particular product, they are all currently major enterprises with products and markets transcending the bounds of country, language, culture, and race.


If the music industry were a shriveling job market in which Bowie and Madonna scrambled for jobs, both artists would be employing and cultivating their unique brands to advance their careers.  And, so should you.


Now, if you’re wondering whether or not you already have a unique personal brand, answer the following question:  if a prospective employer “googled” your name, what would he or she discover?  If your answer is “nothing of significance,” “very little,” or “something embarrassing,” then you are among the 90+% of people who – whether or not currently employed – find themselves adrift in the churning seas of our current economic downturn without a lifeboat.  You need to begin developing your personal brand without delay.


So, what is a personal brand and how do you create it?  Your personal brand is simply a combination of your talent(s), style, and values; essentially, the composite of who you are as an employee, potential employee, or business partner.  For purposes of this article, I am going to assume that you already know these things.  Should you need to discover yourself, you will need to do a thorough, searching assessment of your talents and perhaps solicit the input of a career counselor, coach, or other objective party.


Again, assuming that you know what you have to offer in the workplace, the primary hurdle for most people is building market exposure for their unique personal brand.  Fortunately, the Internet provides many helpful tools to assist you in reaching your target audience.  Your message, however, must be created by you or a professional with whom you may work to craft it.


Components of your personal branding strategy will or may include – in no particular order – your resume and cover letter, email address, business card, portfolio, profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, appearance, article marketing efforts, and blog or Website:


Use your resume and cover letter to create, via use of appropriate keywords and articulation of accomplishments, the best expression of you and what you have to offer a prospective employer.


If appropriate to your career, develop a portfolio – Web-based, print, or CD – providing more ample opportunity to display your talents or detail your achievements.


Create a professional email address and business card (yes, even if you are unemployed, you can and should create a card to distribute to networking contacts and prospective employers).


Use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter as sites on which to create and publish professional profiles that will serve to advertise you and your talents to readers.


Writing and publication of articles on various articles boards (such as, EzineArticles or ArticlesBase) and/or on your own blog/Website will serve to build your authority as an expert in your particular field.


Finally, your wardrobe and personal appearance speak volumes about you.  Professional dress and bearing, in situations in which you are interviewing or networking, will go a long way in advancing your personal brand and prospects for achievement of career objectives.


So, as you see, there’s no need to don a silver jumpsuit or transform religious iconography into jewelry in order to stand out from the crowd of job seekers; just be cutting edge.  Use technology and simple personal branding strategies to your advantage in increasing your relevancy, and by inference, your value to prospective employers.

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