Our Love Has Faded – The Strayhorn Centenary Project

Bebop hit the scene in the early 1940s and grew as the decade progressed. Rhythm and blues got more attention as the 40s rolled to a conclusion. Thus, by 1950, club owners began booking smaller R & B combos and jazz joints booked bebop combos. It was cheaper to pay 4-6 musicians than a large jazz orchestra of 12 musicians or more. Folks started buying more R & B, and eventually its offshoot rock and roll, both supplanting jazz as popular music. Big bands started to fade. Many folded, including, for a while, Count Basie’s — though ultimately he would start his “new testament” orchestra by 1954.

Duke Ellington weathered the storm. He maintained his organization by paying his musicians from his royalty income as gigs began to dry up. And he gained some important new voices like drummer Louis Belson and in particular tenor sax player Paul Gonsalves. He also lost some older voices, most notably alto sax star Johnny Hodges. Hodges had been itching to strike out on his own for a while, and finally made his break in 1951. Perhaps he saw an opportunity to cash in on the new small combo craze. He even had a hit record early on, “Castle Rock.” By 1955, however, Hodges returned to Ellington and stayed until his death in 1970.

Billy Strayhorn also wanted to make an exit from the world of Duke Ellington by the early 1950s. But doing so for him was a more daunting task.

It was easy for any of the musicians of the band to go off on their own. The Ellington Orchestra was really made up of high caliber soloists. All had name recognition. The public knew their work. Billy Strayhorn had none of this. Despite his prodigious work for the Orchestra, hardly anyone outside of music knew him, thus making it difficult for him to strike out on his own.   Also, unlike any of his colleagues, he had to contend with the tyranny imposed by society’s virulent homophobia. In this regard, he had a choice. He could work for Duke Ellington and live comfortably out of the limelight, but not receive the type of recognition any artist would want to receive for his or her work. Or he could strike out on his own and receive his due, but then contend with “who is your wife” or “who are you dating” type questions. Since Strayhorn lived very honestly with himself, lying to the press about his sexuality was likely a nonstarter. Thus he found himself in a very difficult position. But still, he tried to go out and test the waters.

Like many LGBT folks, particularly from that era, Strayhorn had a community of friends who provided emotional support and encouragement, as well as sometimes practical advice. One of his most important friendships was with Lena Horne, whom he met in the early 1940s. She often stated that Billy was the love of her life, and they remained close to the end of his days. He, in turn, gave her strength and encouraged her to live her life on her own terms. For instance, he went to Europe to support Horne when she married Lennie Hayton, of Russian Jewish heritage. They had to go to Europe because of California’s miscegenation laws. Both Lena and Lennie encouraged him to strike out on his own. Hayton, in particular, urged him to take better control of his business relationship with Ellington.

Another important group of friends were a dance group known as The Copasetics. Named in honor of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and his favorite catchword — some credit him with coining it — they welcomed Strayhorn into their group, even though he wasn’t a dancer. They loved him and his music and many felt he provided a calming influence. Strayhorn particularly grew attached to Honi Coles, “Father,” as he often called him. The group gave Strayhorn another avenue for his creative work. He composed music for several of their reviews. They eventually elected him their president.

Strayhorn also made some inroads into more traditional theater. In 1953, he took on a summer-stock job with director Herbert Machiz, with whom he had worked on an Ellington theater project in Paris. Strayhorn brought along Luther Henderson, an arranger, composer, orchestrator, and pianist, who worked with him on Ellington’s Beggar’s Holiday. They played two pianos off-stage for the productions.

Machiz was a gay man. His partner was art dealer John Bernard Myers. With Myers’ help, Machiz created the Artists Theatre, a place for experimental works and collaborations across several artistic disciplines. The Artists Theatre ultimately became a precursor to Off Broadway theatre. It presented works by Tennessee Williams and Frank O’Hara with sets designed by artists like Elaine de Kooning. While brainstorming ideas for future projects, Strayhorn expressed the desire to have an all black cast present a play that dealt in some way with homosexuality. In 1953, he wanted to do this. Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room came out three years later. Imagine if a stage version of that book had been created. Imagine if Strayhorn had written incidental music for it. That would indeed have been something to live for. However, the closest the group came to Strayhorn’s idea was a production of The Love of Don Perlimplín for Belisa in Their Garden by gay Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca. Lorca, like Oscar Wilde before him, was pilloried for his homosexuality and ultimately murdered by Franco loyalist at the start of the Spanish Civil War. The Artists Theatre production featured an all black cast. Strayhorn wrote incidental music for it. It was considered highly unusual for its time. Think about it. Today, we have a new Star Wars movie about to premiere featuring a black male heroic lead, and even now, in 2015, some folks got bent out of shape about it.

Ultimately, though, Strayhorn never extricated himself fully from Duke Ellington. The Maestro experienced a rebirth at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. Paul Gonsalves sealed his place in jazz history by performing a 27-chorus solo in the bridge between “Divertimento in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue” that nearly caused a riot and put Ellington on the map. The Maestro’s picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine, the second jazz artist to be so honored. (The first was Dave Brubeck, and he always felt embarrassed that he was first and not one of his black colleagues, particularly Ellington). Reenergized, Ellington wanted Strayhorn back in the fold, fully present to meet the demands placed upon him and the Orchestra thanks to the renewed fame. To be sure, Strayhorn had never strayed far. But this time, a very savvy Ellington promised his long-time partner full credit for his work and the opportunity to contribute his own music to their projects. This would be the first time since the ASCAP strike in 1941 that Strayhorn was afforded this opportunity.

Such Sweet Thunder was the first of several major projects from this period. A musical tone-poem based on the works of William Shakespeare, it had Strayhorn written all over it. He contributed the movements “The Star-Crossed Lovers,” a luscious Johnny Hodges showpiece, “Half the Fun,” a piece steeped in mystery, evoking its subject Cleopatra, and “Up and Down, Up and Down,” a take on the mischievous Puck from A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream. Other projects from this period include A Drum is a Woman, composed for a TV special, and Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook. By definition, the Songbook project was largely in Duke’s name. But Strayhorn received full credit on Drum and in particular Thunder. The original album cover for the latter states in the byline “Composed and Orchestrated by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.”

When it came to the publicity of these works, however, life turned awful again. Ellington had hired around this time a new publicist, Joe Morgen. Morgen was good at his job. He worked hard to get his boss’s name all over the media and succeeded. He was also, by all accounts, a huge homophobe. Morgen made sure that Strayhorn’s name appeared as infrequently as possible. So even though he was listed on the album cover as a co-composer and co-orchestrator, Billy Strayhorn’s name failed to appear in the New York Time’s review of Thunder or any other publicity about the work. He became invisible in a project tailor made for him. Publicly, Strayhorn responded with nonchalance.

Privately, he was devastated. Honi Coles told Hajdu that he confronted Strayhorn about his lack of acknowledgement in the press. He was concerned that his “son” wasn’t doing well, noting how much more he drank, even by Strayhorn’s standards. Coles was right. While Strayhorn stated that he was better off without the publicity — and Coles accepted this, knowing that increased publicity meant potentially dealing with his sexuality — inside he was hurting. Coles asked him pointedly “Are you happy?” and that’s when Strayhorn broke down and cried. He faced the dilemma again: stay closeted and secure, but unacknowledged. Or get acknowledged and face a potential backlash from a homophobic society.

It’s clear from some of his work during this period that Strayhorn actually wanted to take a chance and expose himself more, for the sake of his art. But it was also clear that taking such a step would have been costly. He would have potentially lost his position within the Ellington organization, because he wasn’t around doing the work, and there was no guarantee that he would have generated enough income to live on, much less live in the posh style he had grown accustomed to.

Ironically, Billy Strayhorn had a similarity with his estranged biological father, James Strayhorn. Both men, it would seem, had aspirations incompatible with the time periods they were born into, and both drank to excess as a coping mechanism. Billy was able to lead a highly productive, if at times frustrated, life despite his obstacles and drinking, though the latter, sadly, was about to catch up with him in the early 1960s.

The Swing Era – The Strayhorn Centenary Project

1939 was a good year for a composer/arranger to join the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Several important musicians joined its ranks around this time, adding to the band’s considerable aural palette.

Jimmy Blanton freed the bass from its simple time-keeping role and made it a fluid, melodic instrument. This is best heard on the track “Jack the Bear.” Ben Webster was called Duke’s first major tenor sax star — Count Basie already had Lester Young and Herschel Evans. He provided the iconic solo on the track “Cotton Tail.” So influential were these two players, that years later the Orchestra from this era, 1939-42, has often been called the Blanton-Webster band.

Another important player to arrive at this time was trumpeter Ray Nance, hired to replace “jungle style” muted trumpeter Cootie Williams. Nance learned to play the growling trumpet of his predecessor, but he also brought his violin and vocal skills to the group, making him a triple-threat on the bandstand.

To this new palette of colors for the Ellington Orchestra came Billy Strayhorn. After nominally living at a YMCA for a couple of days, he moved in with Ellington’s family, sister Ruth, who was his age, son Mercer, four years his junior, Ellington’s lover Mildred Dixon, and the Maestro himself, when he wasn’t on the road. Hajdu writes that Ruth treated Billy like a brother, but “temperamental differences kept Strayhorn and Mercer Ellington a few degrees apart.” They united largely around their shared interest and work in Duke’s music.

Strayhorn’s first duties with the orchestra were mainly to write out the arrangements for the small band sessions and work with the vocalists. Ellington’s confidence in Strayhorn grew quickly, however, so he also called upon his younger colleague to write out arrangements for the whole orchestra. The aforementioned “Jack the Bear,” for instance, began life as a discarded Ellington chart, which Strayhorn revived and arranged as a showpiece for bassist Jimmy Blanton. In his early months with the band, Strayhorn had a lot of free time to study Ellington’s charts to learn his technique, and to write some of his own music. These skills would soon be put to the test on a scale he could not have imagined.

In late 1940, negotiations between the radio industry and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) came to a head, the former refusing to accept the fee increase demands of the latter. The radio industry, in fact, launched their own performing rights organization to compete with ASCAP, Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). Further, the radio industry ordained that come January 1, 1941, they would no longer broadcast any music composed by ASCAP members. This would include Duke Ellington, who had joined ASCAP in 1935. One of the reasons for the early success of the Duke Ellington Orchestra was its ability to reach a wider audience via radio. Thanks to the connections of his then-manager Irving Mills, Ellington had a regular radio presence dating back to his time in the Cotton Club in the mid-1920s. Thus, the biggest losers to the boycott were Ellington and other artists who belonged ASCAP. He could play his tunes in concert, but not on the radio. Fortunately, Duke had a secret weapon. Neither Strayhorn or his son Mercer were members of ASCAP.

“Strayhorn and I got this big break at the same time,” Mercer Ellington told Strayhorn biographer David Hajdu. “Overnight, literally, we got a write a whole new book for the band. It could have taken us twenty years to get the old man to make room for that much of our music, but all of a sudden there was this freak opportunity.”

Mercer and Billy had been with the orchestra in Chicago during a gig. The orchestra moved on to Los Angeles, but they remained behind. Ellington ordered them to come out west immediately and to bring new compositions and charts with them. It took a couple of days to get a train to LA, so they stayed in a South Side hotel for blacks and wrote nonstop, fortified by cigarettes and booze. Mercer tunes like “Jumpin’ Punkins,” a personal favorite, and “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” came from this period. Some of Billy’s best known tunes originated during this marathon writing session, including “After All,” “Chelsea Bridge,” “Rain Check,” “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” and “Passion Flower.”

Then there was “Take the A Train.” As noted previously, Strayhorn first wrote this song, based on the directions he received to get to Harlem, to impress Ellington. This time he wrote it up as an uptempo, big band number in the style of noted composer and arranger Fletcher Henderson, the man who made the Benny Goodman Orchestra swing. Billy thought it sounded too much like Henderson, however, and threw it away. The world of music is eternally grateful to Mercer Ellington, who had the good sense to pull “A Train” from the trash, flatten it out, and take it with him when they went out west to join his father and the band.

The Ellington Orchestra actually had three theme songs during its nearly 50-year history. The first was Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo.” Dark, atmospheric, foreboding, it served as the bands theme on the radio from around 1926 to 1940. By mid-1940, though, Ellington likely wanted to update the band’s sound so he composed “Sepia Panorama,” a swanky swing number fitting the time period. It also featured Jimmy Blanton’s bass work. Hajdu notes that Strayhorn helped with the arranging of this piece. Since both “Tootle-Oo” and “Sepia” were penned by Ellington, however, they could not be used as radio theme songs for the band. Enter “Take the A Train.” Upon hearing it, Ellington was convinced that the cheery, upbeat, hummable piece would make the perfect theme for the band. They first recorded it in the studio on February 7, 1941 in Los Angeles. Ray Nance’s trumpet solo was so integral to the piece, that he was obliged to repeat it during subsequent performances. Indeed, when Cootie Williams rejoined the Ellington Orchestra in 1961, ultimately replacing the man who replaced him, he also had to play the trumpet solo in Nance’s style. The song became a huge hit. It remained the Orchestra’s theme to the end of its days in the mid-1970s, several years after the death of its composer.

1939 was also a good year for Billy Strayhorn in terms of his personal life. Via Mercer Ellington, he met his first love, pianist Aaron Bridgers. Mercer states that he did not know much about Bridgers, a friend of a friend, but thought that Strayhorn needed more friends in New York, since he didn’t know anyone, and that they would get along. Strayhorn and Bridgers hit it off instantly. Both were Francophiles and spoke to each other in French when riding together on the subways, along side curious onlookers. Both had similar tastes in music, wine, and food. Within a year, they moved in together, sharing a basement apartment in Harlem. Their upstairs neighbor was Basie vocalist Jimmy Rushing and his wife Connie. Bridgers, who died in 2003, told Hajdu that the Rushings fought regularly, but made more noise afterwards when they made up.

Gay life in 1940s New York was very much in the closet. No gay bars, to speak of. A couple of places the new couple frequented were Cafe Society Uptown on the Upper East Side, and Club Society Downtown in the Village. They weren’t gay establishments, but welcomed mixed-race couples, something totally alien at that time, so the young black gay couple felt comfortable. They also got to hear some of the latest music, including up-and-coming artists like Sarah Vaughan. Gay New York mostly partied quietly at private residences. Billy did not generally visit those very gay places, however. He and Aaron mostly hosted parties of their own with close friends. Both loved to cook, in particular Billy.

Ruth Ellington Boatwright says that the family accepted Aaron as one of their own, because they loved Billy. Similarly, Billy received acceptance from his colleagues in the Orchestra, with only a hint of shade around the edges. (Juan Tizol, the valve trombone master, reportedly had issues, but then he also had issues with various band members, including Charles Mingus during his brief stint in the Orchestra in the 1950s.) Billy was held in high regard in New York’s black gay circles, because of his talent, his position within the Ellington organization, and his openness about his relationship. They realized that he could afford his openness because of his association with Duke Ellington. The Maestro allowed him the freedom to be himself.

The only catch was that Billy remained in the background and thus avoided the prying glare associated with fame. He received solo credit for “Take the A Train.” Other compositions saw Ellington’s name added as co-composer, even tunes Strayhorn wrote before joining the Orchestra, like “Something To Live For.” And on larger works, like Ellington’s Beggar’s Holiday, a work meant for Broadway, Strayhorn received no compositional credit at all, only arranging credit. And so it was during much of the 1940s.

Aaron Bridgers worked in jobs outside of music while in New York. An opportunity arose for him to earn a living as a musician in Paris. Thus, he decided to move to the city of his dreams in 1947. Billy stayed in New York. He threw Aaron a huge bon voyage party.

The 1950s would prove a turning point for Billy personally and for the Orchestra he worked for.

Baby Boy Strayhorn – The Strayhorn Centenary Project

For the first few years of his life, Billy Strayhorn didn’t have a name. His parents had buried two of three children born before him, so when the new born started life sickly, with rickets, they did not rush to name him. He was called “Baby Boy Strayhorn” on his birth certificate. The rickets went away, the baby survived, and they would name him William Thomas Strayhorn.

Billy Strayhorn was born in Dayton, Ohio on November 29, 1915 to James and Lillian Strayhorn. Billy would ultimately have five siblings: older brother James, Jr., or Jimmy (1912), and younger siblings Georgia (1921), John (1924), Theodore (1926), and Lillian (1930). The family moved around quite a bit until finally settling in the Homewood district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1926. It was an oddly integrated neighborhood in that whites lived on the main street and blacks lived in rented houses on alleys behind the white-owned houses. The youngest daughter, Lillian (later Lillian Strayhorn Dicks) described her father as having been born in the wrong time. “He was bright and had a lot of personality, and he probably would have done very well years later,” she told Strayhorn biographer David Hajdu. As it was, he was a frustrated man, no doubt hindered by the racism of the time, driven to drink and fits of anger, which he often took out on his family. In one instance, he stomped on his son Billy’s much-needed glasses as they sat on the floor and walked off laughing.

Billy’s mother Lillian had aspirations of being a society lady, a dream never realized. Rather than take out her disappointments on her children as James had, she protected her kids from his cruelty, in particular young, quiet Billy. In him she saw a hope for a brighter future, even when he was still young. Billy, in turn, became very attached to his mother.

Interest in music started in grade school, but opportunities were very limited. The family had no budget for music lessons much less an instrument — and from the start, Billy wanted to learn piano — so Billy took a job delivering newspapers to earn money to pay for his musical pursuits. Eventually, he became a clerk at a drugstore and was able to buy himself an upright player piano that could only be played manually. (Side note: In his youth, Duke Ellington learned how to play stride piano on a working player piano by slowing down the roll and following the depressed keys with his fingers.) Billy spent money on music lessons and scores, until the house had stacks of sheet music all over the place. His mother loved the music in the house. Also around this time he met future concert trumpeter Harry Herforth, a young white man with whom Billy became friends. They took long walks together and discussed music.

In high school, Billy and Harry studied with Carl McVicker, a forward-thinking man who encouraged all students from all backgrounds to pursue and study music. Herforth would eventually play with the Boston Symphony. Billy had classical inclinations as well, with an ear for Claude Debussy and Cesar Franck. Despite his classical training and aptitude, however, race would keep him from pursuing a career in classical music. When he graduated high school in the winter of 1934, he kept working at the pharmacy, determined to raise money to eventually attend a school that would accept him. During the next four years, he honed his skills, took odd music jobs, and worked at his high school alma mater, composing music for students to play.

Though described as a quiet, introspective person, Billy Strayhorn clearly had drive. From the start, he did not let his family’s financial hardships or his father’s cruel indifference keep him from pursuing music. He knew who he was and what he wanted to do in life. His honestly also extended towards recognition of his sexual orientation. He never dated girls and did not go to proms or dances, except to play piano at them. He never pretended to be heterosexual. We might not call him “out” in the modern since of the term. In fact, Hajdu writes that Strayhorn’s childhood friends said that he never came out to them. Many assumed he was either gay or asexual. But most importantly and most intriguingly, Billy Strayhorn was out to himself and by all accounts seemed comfortable with himself. In contrast, I was not out to myself growing up. I knew I was sexually attracted to boys by the time I was five, even if I did not know the language to describe such an attraction. But I would not feel comfortable acknowledging this aspect of myself until I was 23. If anything illustrates the strength of Billy’s character it is this simple fact of self-honesty, the bravest kind of courage that exists. It still breaks my brain that a black man born 50 years before me, born to an era of violent racism and homophobia, possessed this kind of strength.

It was as a 17-18 year-old that Billy composed his signature piece: “Lush Life.” Its urbane lyrics, sophisticated melody, and challenging chord progressions made it a jazz standard covered by everyone from Nat King Cole to Queen Latifah. Its opening line immediately grabs attention:

I used to visit all the very gay places

Others may disagree, but I think the double-entendre was intentional. “Gay” in the sense of “homosexual” was just coming into usage around the time of the song’s composition. And while he used “she” as the pronoun to describe the lost love in “Lush Life,” “Something To Live For,” also composed around this time, has no pronouns at all. It also has this line:

Oh, what wouldn’t I give for

Someone who’d take my life and make it seem

Gay as they say it ought to be

Billy’s big break came in early December, 1938. His drugstore gig sent him all over middle-class, white Pittsburgh and his musical prowess made him a local celebrity. Folks asked him to play for them while making deliveries. It was via this unusual route of networking that he met a student at the University of Pittsburgh’s College of Pharmacy, David Perelman. Perelman had as a friend George Greenlee, one of the College’s first black students. Greenlee’s uncle had friendships with many of the black musical illuminati of the day, including 39 year-old band leader Duke Ellington. As it happened, Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra came to Pittsburgh for an extended engagement at the Stanley Theatre around this time. Via Greenlee’s uncle, Billy was introduced to the Maestro.

Duke was having his hair conked — a hair straightening ordeal popular at that time among black men — when he asked that the young man be brought into his dressing room. Billy played for Duke his own “Sophisticated Lady” in the manner the Maestro had just played it during the performance. Then he said, precociously, “This is the way I would have played it.” Duke rose and stood behind the young man as he played and ordered his valet to get Harry Carney, his long-time baritone sax player and first lieutenant. Eventually legendary alto-sax master Johnny Hodges and vocalist Ivie Anderson would join them. Billy began playing some of his own compositions, including “Something to Live For.” They all marveled at Billy’s playing and composing chops. Duke gave the young man a couple of assignments on the spot, to add lyrics to one piece and to do arrangements for another. He completed both of these, receiving $20 for his arranging work. Then he received a most unusual job offer from Ellington: the Maestro wanted Billy to join his organization, though the duties were not defined. In effect, he said come to New York and we’ll figure something out. He gave him directions to his place in Harlem and the Orchestra went off to their next destination.

It would be a few months before Duke followed up with his new protege and brought him to New York. When Billy finally went to the Big Apple in 1939, he set the directions Duke had given him to get to his place on Sugar Hill way up in Harlem to music. He called the piece “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

{Ed. note: Reference material for this article: Lush Life — A Biography of Billy Strayhorn by David Hajdu (North Point Press, 1996).}

Blog Tour – Spanish Bay by Hans M. Hirschi

Spanish-Bay-Tour-Banner SpanishBay-HMH_3dbook-background

Spanish Bay 

by Hans M. Hirschi

Published by Beaten Track Publishing

Genres: Romance, LGBT

196 pages Release Date:  

October 10, 2015

Synopsis Spanish Bay is a feel-good novel about two young men who, despite having the odds stacked against them, never give up, always see the silver lining, work hard, and are committed to their families, come what may. Chris, a Texan native who recently moved to Carmel, rescues wheelchair-bound Neil from bullies. Neither question the love that develops between them, although their life together is not without challenges. When Chrisís parents die in a car accident, their young love faces the ultimate test. Will they be able to cope with the additional responsibility of raising Chrisís baby brother Frank, who is also confined to a wheelchair? Spanish Bay is about love, overcoming obstacles, and finding happiness, wherever you are.

Check out the trailer for Spanish Bay

Excerpt from Spanish Bay

“The stew turned out to be as delicious as it looked and smelled, and Jessica finally told them the story of how they’d gotten acquainted with old Murphy.
“I drove over to his house one day, with a meat pie, just to say thanks for how nice he’d been to you, and ol’ Steve here wasn’t feeling too well. He was running a fever. So I called the doctor and looked after him for a few days, until he was back on his feet. Apparently someone hadn’t taken his flu shot last fall, and so he got it when one of the farm hands came down with the flu. We’ve kind of been friends ever since. And when Steve’s foreman quit last month, Steve offered the job to Jack.”
“You’re the new foreman on the Murphy ranch? But how can you run both places at the same time?”
“I run it as one really. Instead of being paid, Steve here allows me to use his farm hands on our place as well, which makes my life so much easier. We work all the fields essentially as one, I was able to fix the roofs of the house and the barn, fix the stables and paint the house for the material cost. And Jess has been invaluable in the fields. Everything we’ve eaten tonight is food produced here on the Double J Ranch.”

Oct 12th Happy Geek Media Tour launch & Excerpt

Oct 13th Bike Book Reviews Review & Unique Excerpt

Oct 13th Alina Oswald Unique Excerpt 

Oct 13th Spectra Unique Excerpt

Oct 14th Unconventional – Expressions of Reality Review & Music Playlist 

Oct 15th Michaela Writes Unique Excerpt

Oct 16th Muffy Wilson Literotica Guest Post, Playlist, Author Q&A

Oct 19th Art, AIDS, & Others Author Q&A

Oct 20th DP’s Cafe Unique Excerpt

Oct 21st Photography, Poetry and Indie Authors Music Playlist

Oct 22nd De-Blog Review

Oct 23rd Blak Rayne’s Blog Unique Excerpt, guest post, Q&A

Oct 26th For the Love of Men Unique Excerpt

Oct 27th E-Book Builders Excerpt & Playlist

Oct 28th The Story of Being Dark Spotlight Special

Oct 29th Kelly S. Gamble Guest Post & Playlist

Nov 2nd Caddy Rowland: Slice of Life Guest Post

Nov 3rd Wake Up Your Wild Side Guest Post

Nov 4th The Gar Spot Unique Excerpt

Nov 5th Sarah Bell Reviews Review, Playlist

Nov 6th KP’s Cafe Review & Recipe

Nov 9th Kryssie Fortune Spotlight Feature

Nov 10th Nic Starr Guest Post & Music Playlist

Nov 11th Rainbow Gold Reviews Review

Nov 11th Just Olga Review, Unique Excerpt, Guest Post

Nov 11th GayListBookReviews Review

Nov 13th Happy Geek Media Review & Closing Special


Hans M Hirschi (b. 1967) has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life efficiently put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years. A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world and had previously published non-fictional titles.   The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with the opportunity to unleash his creative writing once again. With little influence over his brain’s creative workings, he indulges it, going with the flow.   A deeply rooted passion for, faith in a better world, in love, tolerance and diversity are a red thread throughout both his creative and non-fictional work. His novels might best be described as “literary romance, engaging characters and relevant stories that won’t leave you untouched, but hopeful.”   Hans is a proud member of the Swedish Writers’ Union and the Writers’ Center in Sweden.

spanish-bay-giveaway The giveaway for Spanish Bay has 11 randomly chosen winners; 1 will receive a $50 Amazon gift card and 10 will receive a $10 gift code to the author’s shop.

Good luck and happy reading and winning!

Spanish Bay Tour brought to you by…


Multiple Fails at Spring Valley High School

The teenage girl body slammed by former Deputy Sheriff Ben Fields at Spring Valley High School in Richland County, South Carolina recently lost her mother and is in foster care. In other words, she’s already in one institutional system and now, thanks to her trumped up, over-the-top arrest, she’s in another. Her foster mother has said that the girl is now devastated and traumatized. Additionally, the girl’s attorney said she suffered physical injuries as the result of Fields yanking her from her desk and body slamming her — actually tossing her — across the room.

This incident has multiple levels of fail, all stemming from one origin: the inability to treat this teen, this young black girl, like a human being.

She was acting out. She was not obeying the teacher. She was disrupting the class. These facts have appeared in many of the stories covering this incident. That she is an orphan living in foster care has not. That she recently lost her mother has not. For a rational person, making the connection between her behavior and her life situation is not that hard. Someone trained in handling children, like a teacher, a school administrator, and a “resource officer” (a silly euphemism if ever I heard one) should certainly be able to connect the dots between behavior and life situation. But they either couldn’t or chose not to. The teacher or the school administrator should have called a counsellor to help manage the child, not a resource police officer. A cop’s presence would only be justified if the child was armed and a threat to herself or others. From all descriptions of what led up to the body slamming, this girl was not a physical threat to anyone. She was just acting out.

Humans are complex creatures and we communicate in complex ways. Sometimes we communicate in ways that are not ideal or considered socially acceptable. The question we have to ask ourselves is, how do we best respond to a given situation? No amount of sass or back talking rises to the occasion of snatching a child out of a chair and body slamming her to the ground. So the teacher and the administrator present during the body slamming both failed. Their actions prior to the attack precipitated the incident in the first place.

Firing Officer Slam, as the students called him, is just a baby step. Fields should additionally be thrown in prison on assault charges. But the teacher and administrator should also lose their jobs for mishandling the situation so badly. And then the whole school needs a top-to-bottom review to expose why they are incapable of serving their at-risk students and what steps they need to take to correct this problem. Spring Valley High School apparently has six counselors and a social worker on staff. None of these people have been mentioned in any reports about this incident. The administrator instead brought in the “resource officer.” That’s scandalous.

The girl who was body slammed was crying for help. Instead of receiving help, she got a severe punishment, one that will stay with her for the rest of her life. That is unforgivable. We have to do better.

The Wayne Shorter Quartet at SF Jazz

I walked into the SF Jazz Center to see the Wayne Shorter Quartet whistling “Tom Thumb” from Mr. Shorter’s 1967 release Schizophrenia. I mean, why not whistle “Tom Thumb”? However, I held no expectation that the Quartet would play this venerable classic or any other venerable classic from Maestro Shorter’s long and distinguished career. They did not disappoint. Everything played was fresh and new from a jazz legend who has no time for reminiscing. And why should he? At 82, Wayne Shorter continues to push boundaries and explore new sides and shades of his music.

Had I done my homework, I would have learned that this quartet, consisting of Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass, Brian Blade on drums, and the Maestro on tenor and soprano sax, have been playing together since 2003. Similarly, I would have known what to expect from the show had I listened to their latest release Without A Net (after which the concert was named) from 2013. But it was more fun going in cold, prepared for anything.

The music seemed to me a meditation. I compared the beginning of their first piece to an alap, the slow introduction of a raga in a classical Indian recital. No fix rhythm or theme, more an exploration of textures, moods, emotions. It pulsated, slow to fast then back again, each pulsation venturing further. Finally, at the end of one crescendo, all the musicians went there, tearing the music apart in a burst of awesome energy. None more so than Brian Blade on the drums. His sticks glided across the symbols and tom-toms, his bass drum pounded merciless. One of his tom-toms couldn’t take it, though, and collapsed. Didn’t matter. He played it anyway as it rolled sideways on the ground. We in the audience went wild, as indeed did his colleagues on stage, playing harder than ever. Moments like this make live jazz worth the price of the ticket.

They announced none of the pieces from stage. However on the album from which they were  taken, some tracks were augmented by the addition of the Imani Winds quintet. This group did not join them at SF Jazz, but the Quartet nonetheless proved more than capable of exploring the music without the additional musicians. Indeed, Mr. Shorter was a fount of ideas, playing off his colleagues and leading their extended flights. He also knew when the sit back and let them go on their own.

If the Wayne Shorter Quartet plays in your area, go see them. Run, don’t walk. Their musical explorations will stay with you for a long time. Short of that, check out Without A Net. I plan to listen to it very closely in the weeks ahead.

Learning While Muslim: The Shameful Arrest of Ahmed Mohamed

40 years ago I embarked on my shortwave radio adventure and flew headlong into the world of geekdom. Because my radio was built in 1937, I needed to perform periodic maintenance on it, checking vacuum tubes, capacitors, and the like. I had my father’s superior knowledge of electronics to fall back on for assistance. He had rebuilt that radio in 1968 for my brother Robert, who found it while working at an electronics shop that summer. Robert said Dad literally brought it back from the dead. 47 years later, it still works. I compare it to the Doctor’s “antiquated” Type-40 TARDIS. They truly don’t make them like they used to.

In 1981, as a 9th grade graduation present, I received a Heathkit clock kit. I had always wanted a 24-hour clock, and this one could be built to operate as one. (Geek alert!) In the world of international shortwave radio, the time is told in UTC or GMT in 24-hour format. So having such a clock would make it easier to tell when international programs came on. I remember building the radio on the dining room table, my father’s guiding hand nearby. I was thrilled. Not only would I have a 24-hour clock, but also I could say that I built it myself. Of course, it was only a kit and all you had to do was follow the directions. My father was such a badass that he probably could have designed the thing and built it from scratch.

14 year-old Ahmed Mohamed of Irving, Texas seems like a similarly clever person when it comes to electronics. He designs and builds radios, clocks, and other gimmicky gadgets for kicks, in his spare time. If he had gone to my school, the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, LA’s first magnet school, he would have found kindred spirits. Geeks thrived at CES when I was there; I trust it is the same today. We congregated and did geek things, like play with the then-new, then-awesome TRS-80 personal computer from Radio Shack (RIP). Our teachers encouraged such activities. Sadly, Mr. Mohamed does not go to CES or anything like it. He instead goes to a school steeped in fear and loathing. So when he brought a clock he built to school to show to his science teacher, instead of getting a pat on the back, he got called into the principal’s office and then put into handcuffs by the local police. Why? Because his homemade clock looked liked a bomb, at least to the teachers, principal, and the police. They described it as something meant to look like a bomb to cause mass panic. Apparently they thought the clock description was just a “story.” So they took him in for questioning and confiscated the device he created. Charges were later dropped.

Let’s leave aside the elephant in the room for just a hot second. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that the device created was indeed meant to look like a bomb prop, or maybe even the real deal. Why, then, would Mr. Mohamed telegraph his punch, so to speak, by showing the thing to a teacher? Did the Sandy Hook assassin telegraph his motives by showing off his guns and ammo to a teacher before his killing spree? Did the Columbine assassins telegraph their motives by showing off their guns and ammo to a teacher before their killing spree? Of course they didn’t. So why would this kid show this device to a teacher if it was anything but innocent? Right? So now that we’ve dispatched that bit of tripe, let’s get to the elephant.

Mr. Mohamed is a Muslim and his name sounds to some Arab. That was the source of the suspicions about the clock. The teachers, principal, and police all vehemently deny that his religion or ethnic background had anything to do with his arrest. Rubbish. Clearly these attributes were at the heart of their outrageous accusations. And make no mistake, the adults in this situation behaved outrageously. Ahmed Mohamed looked scared, dazed, confused, and humiliated standing in his NASA t-shirt with his hands cuffed behind his back. Outrageous barely describes his situation. I honestly can’t think of any words to adequately describe how cruel and evil this act was.

I brought my portable shortwave radios to school often – and they looked rather fierce with tons of knobs and buttons – but not once did someone call the cops on me under some trumped up pretense, like I was signaling the Commies or something. Mr. Mohamed was not so fortunate. His teachers failed. His principal failed. The police of his city failed. They all failed this young man. Instead of congratulating him on his innovative spirit, his cleverness, his willingness to go above and beyond to learn and explore, they punished him and humiliated him. Their motive wasn’t concern for the school’s wellbeing and it certainly wasn’t for Mr. Mohamed’s wellbeing. Their motive was misplaced, naked fear. 14 years after 9/11, the year of Mr. Mohamed’s birth, anti-Muslim sentiments still run as strongly as ever. Anyone who looks or remotely sounds Muslim is subject to have their rights revoked or abused at a moments notice, without so much as a by-your-leave. This is what happened to Mr. Mohamed, a fact he sadly realized immediately. He also said that he would no longer bring his inventions to school, the very place he should bring them to be recognized and guided into accomplishing even greater feats.

My father wanted to go to college and study engineering when he got out of the army after World War II. He didn’t make it. First, the GI folks gave him the run around, not the money he was due. Second, the school he wanted to go to did not want to admit him, despite his obvious qualifications. Of course, the Army didn’t recognize his talents, either. Blacks were relegated to quartermaster detail, and that’s what my father did. He was not the radio dude that you see in World War II movies like he should have been. My father’s revenge was to have five kids just as geeky as he was, for all five to go to college, for one of them to major in engineering, my late brother Robert, and for another to get a full scholarship to go to the school that had rejected him years earlier.

So my message to you, Mr. Mohamed, is simple. Hang in there. It will get better. Your school and the entire city of Irving are currently being humiliated by their actions against you, as well they should be. It is not your fault. They had a choice and they chose poorly. You have a bright future ahead of you. President Obama has already invited you to the White House to look at and learn about your inventions. I have no doubt that many universities in due course will be eager to give you scholarships so that when it’s time for college, you’ll have your pick of offers. Be aware of the bigotry that exists, but do not let it deter you. The best way to get past this dreadful incident is to continue to be the person you are, to continue to dream, and to continue to strive to fulfill these dreams. But it sounds like you already know all this. That makes you a much wiser person than many of the adults at your soon-to-be former school.

I have no doubt that you’ll feature in other headlines, only these will tout your accomplishments as an inventor and entrepreneur.

Encore from the Archives: The False Victimhood of Religious Conservatives

The Kim Davis fiasco continues the pattern of religious conservatives relying on more extreme and desperate measures to retain their image of how the world should work. Ms. Davis would have something of a leg to stand on if she personally refused to serve same-sex couples seeking marriage, but allow others in her office to do so. I can sorta give a pass to an employee who, for personal reasons, does not want to do X, so long as someone else can do the work. But no, it was an all or nothing thing for her. By turning away same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses and not allowing others in her office to issue the license, Ms. Davis imposed her religious will on everyone that works for her, as well as on the citizens she has sworn to serve. That’s bullshit. By Ms. Davis’ reasoning, a Hindu could demand an end to the meat industry. A Jew could demand that no one work on Saturday (the Sabbath). A Muslim could ban all alcohol — of course, this was tried once, at the insistence of Christian (not Islamic)-oriented groups, with disastrous consequences. We could all live on our little religious asteroids and live our own realities, unburdened from those who are different. Such a world, of course, is fantasy.

As I’ve stated before, religious freedom arguments are simply flimsy excuses to justify bigotry. Below is a piece I wrote last year about this whole Christian victimhood phenomenon. Sadly, I don’t see this issue going away any time too soon.

[Ed.: The below was originally posted on April 2, 2014]

Those who use religion as a bludgeon to pummel anyone who fails to follow their dogma are getting desperate. Despite years of proselytizing, society Just Won’t Get It. States continue to grant marriage equality rights. Courts continue to overturn anti same-sex marriage laws. And to make matters worse, the dreaded Affordable Care Act had made the pill even more mainstream that it has been for the past 40-odd years. Something must be done!

Their latest weapon: religious freedom. Just cry Religious Freedom and all of these pesky problems will just go away.

An activist judge is threatening to bring marriage equality to your state? Well, you don’t have to listen to that godless heathen. Just refuse to interact with married gays and lesbians, or all LGBT people, coupled or single. Problem solved! Do you own a company that has to give health care to “all,” even women seeking contraception (aka The Pill), thanks to that dastardly Obamacare? Relax! If it’s against your religious ethic, you don’t have to!

No longer content with preaching the patronizing bromide “love the sinner, hate the sin,” religious conservatives want the laws of the land to protect them from that which they find loathsome: LGBT people. Several states have tried to pass or seriously considered laws making it legal for businesses to refuse service to married gay people, or presumably any and all LGBT people, if they are morally opposed to the existence of such people. You want service? Wear shoes and shirts, but no goddamned gay wedding rings!

This is straight up Jim Crow talk. The genesis of the anti-gay laws and the anti-black Jim Crow laws are clearly different, but the end goal is very much the same: to dehumanize. So whether it be based on one’s race or one’s sexual orientation and identity, these type of laws only seek to hurt those they target, to make them feel less than human, to put and keep them firmly in their place. As I write this, apparently Mississippi has gone over to the dark side and seems poised to enact such heinous legislation.

Similarly absurd are the attacks against the Affordable Care Act and its provisions to provide comprehensive healthcare to women, including contraception. Religious organizations and religious-based non-profit businesses already have an exemption so that they do not have to fund prescriptions for the pill. But that’s not good enough. Now we have non-religious companies owned by religious conservatives also squawking that they should not be required to fund that which they find sinful because doing so would violate their religious freedom. Hobby Lobby has taken this argument all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Hobby Lobby seems obsessed with women and contraception. But I wonder if they morally object to men getting vasectomies or even using condoms? Doubtful. The needs of the penis too often trump the needs of the vagina.

The battle cry Religious Freedom is a mask to hide bigotries. No rational argument can be made to restrict contraception or to halt marriage equality. Indeed, on the latter point court after court has ruled that there exists no compelling argument for the state to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples. Having failed at logic, religious conservatives have resorted to faux victimhood. Nothing about women using the pill or gays and lesbians getting married affects their day-to-day lives in anyway. They just don’t like it.

That’s not good enough. Suppose I didn’t like people with naturally red hair. Suppose I disliked people with naturally red hair so much that I found looking at them revolting and repulsive. Does that give me the right to demand laws ordering redheads to dye their hair? Do I get to have a victimhood temper tantrum and declare that my rights as a redhead hater are being trampled by the existence of redheaded people? Of course not. And for the record, I actually like red hair.

But that’s how stupid the religious freedom arguments are. Nobody has the right to point to any book, no matter how holy, and declare that such-and-such a person does not have a right to do X, or worse the right to even exist, and then pass civil laws to reflect that bigotry. That’s what the religious freedom crowd is trying to do. In fact, some of the more determined of them, like the Hobby Lobby group, might be trying to use their money and influence to turn this country into a theocracy, by changing the laws to fit their particular religious dogma.

The US is not a theocracy. There is no state religion. In a country with as many religious and spiritual traditions as this one has, that’s a path we do not want to travel down. Time for the religious conservatives to stop having false victimhood temper tantrums and start learning how to play nice with others. After all, isn’t one of the most important tenets of nearly all the major world religions, Love thy neighbor?

BLM & Sanders, Part 2: That’s More Like It

Senator Bernie Sanders opened his speech in LA on August 10 with Black Lives Matter and civil rights issues. He let his new national spokeswoman, Symone Sanders (no relation), begin the program. She is a black criminal justice advocate and a supporter of Black Lives Matter. Also, on his campaign page, Senator Sanders has put up very clear position statements regarding racism and racial inequality.

All of this is what needed to happen after the Netroots Nation incident. The Senator needed to get ahead of the argument and present his position clearly and often, because it is one of national concern. Had he done so sooner, then the Seattle protest might not have happened. If BLM protesters come to future events, he at least has these actions and concrete plans to back him up, to prove that he is listening and has plans for action.

As I said in my last piece, I like Bernie Sanders, and have always felt that he was on the right side of most issues I care about. I’m glad to see that he’s now willingly discussing this issue of national importance and giving it the platform it deserves. Well done.

PS: Much has been said about Seattle activist Marissa Janae Johnson, one of the two activists who interrupted Senator Sanders in Seattle. Accusations include that she is a plant by the Clinton campaign, was once a supporter of Sarah Palin, that she does not speak for Seattle Black Lives Matter, etc. I don’t know her and I’m not going to jump to any conclusions. I’m hesitant to make such accusations because I know how easy it is to do such things. In a past life I was involved with in-your-face type groups (ACT UP, anti-apartheid groups) that sometimes went after people that others thought should be our “friends.” Based on that experience, I know that sometimes even friends need a wake up call, and that it’s too easy to impugn the alarm clock rather than listen to it ring. The folks at This Week in Blackness Media (TWiB) discussed Ms. Johnson’s actions and interviewed her for their podcast yesterday. Take a listen and decide for yourself. (NSFW: language)

Bernie Sanders & Black Lives Matter

Last month, Senator Bernie Sanders, candidate for the US presidency, spoke at the annual Netroots Nation convention in Phoenix, Arizona. By all accounts, it did not go well for him. An organized group of Black Lives Matter protesters called on Senator Sanders to speak to the issue of black women and men being summarily executed by police in alarming numbers across the country. In particular, a group of women led by Tia Oso called for Sanders — and presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, who spoke before Sanders — to speak the names of black women either killed by the police or who died while in police custody: Rekia Boyd, Tanisha Anderson, and Sandra Bland. Neither candidate reacted well to the protesters. Sanders announced, “Of course black lives matter,” before continuing with his stump speech about economic inequity, stating that he would address the concerns of the protests after he gave his stump speech. Bad move. Far too often, oppressed communities, whether they be people of color or queer folks, have had to hear the old bromide from white progressives “after the revolution, we’ll deal with your issues,” their concerns pushed aside as an afterthought. Senator Sanders should have known better.

It could have been a teachable moment for the Senator, except that apparently it was not. This weekend, he was about to address a group of supporters in Seattle when again a group of Black Lives Matter protesters confronted him. He did not engage with them, instead allowing the organizers of the event to try to wrest control of the microphone and situation. Ultimately, the Senator left the stage without speaking, appearing as if he could not be bothered.

Senator Sanders is making a huge mistake, the same one that Ralph Nader made in 2000. Both men run, or have run, largely single-issue campaigns. Nader mostly concerned himself with campaign financial reform and the two-party system for elections. Sanders largely addresses income inequality. Nader felt annoyed when people of color asked him about issues pertinent to their communities (racial injustice, immigration, etc.) or when LGBT folks asked about marriage equality — quite a fantasy just 15 years ago — working and housing protections, etc. In all cases, Nader balked, at best making patronizing statements, the equivalent of “we’ll deal with your issues after the revolution.” At worst, he never mentioned the issues at all. Senator Sanders appears to be following this same misguided path, sticking to his stump speech while refusing to acknowledge the pressing issues of the day facing the black community: police killings happening at an alarming rate.

I was never a huge fan of Ralph Nader, so his patronizing attitudes frankly never surprised me. But I do like Senator Sanders, so I’m disappointed that he has not handled himself better. I get it, in terms of sticking to one issue. If you want to convince people of your point of view, repeat it over and over and over again until you are blue in the face. The Republicans are famous for this. For example, we now call Social Security and Medicare entitlement programs because Republicans have foisted that term on the media and public repeatedly, until it has finally stuck, whether they are truly “entitlements” or not. They aren’t. We pay into them. But Republicans effectively changed the debate on that issue — and many more — simply by establishing a line and sticking to it.

Senator Sanders is taking a page from their playbook and I say more power to him. If he were organizing a national organization that dealt solely with the issue of income inequality, such rigidity would be justified. But he’s not. He’s running for president. Presidential candidates have to speak to all of the issues of the day, whether they want to or not. Otherwise, they run the risk of appearing above and aloof issues they refuse to address, like Black Lives Matter.

Bernie has to diversify his platform, in other words, if he wants to be taken seriously by all segments of the population. Of course income inequality is an important issue. So is the environment. So is Black Lives Matter. So are anti discrimination laws for LGBT folks. All of these are issues important to me. He has to address each of these and offer his solutions for these ills. President Obama, when he ran his first race in 2008, got it exactly right when he said that a president has to be able to work on more than one thing at a time. So far, Senator Sanders seems unable or unwilling to do this, thus calling into question his ability to effectively lead the country.