Elevate, Saturday November 21, 2015

On Saturday, Sirena and Chelo Mercado of Sirelo Entertainment  brought “Gratitude”, part of a monthly series Elevate, to Jersey City’s new club, Transmission giving us all a reason to be grateful. Every time I am around these two and their drum corps, I find more reasons to be in love with everything around me. Keep your calendar clear for Elevate’s next event, coming soon!

 

Occupy the City: Urban Marshall Plan

On August 8, 2015 over 8000 residents in the city of Newark marched through their neighborhoods demanding an end to violence. From all 5 wards of the city, marchers convened at Broad and Market in a demonstration of unity to change their city. Here, Mayor Baraka demonstrates true leadership by empowering people, inspiring them to act and be their own leaders in ending violence in their communities. Click the link below to see what Mayor Baraka had to say about an Urban Marshall Plan to rebuild the city.

The audience respond's to the young man's performance.
The audience respond’s to the young man’s performance.

Urban Marshall Plan

Occupy the City, We are human beings.

On August 8, 2015 over 8000 residents in the city of Newark marched through their neighborhoods demanding an end to violence. From all 5 wards of the city, marchers convened at Broad and Market in a demonstration of unity to change their city. Here, Mayor Baraka demonstrates true leadership by empowering people, inspiring them to act and be their own leaders in ending violence in their communities. Click the link below to hear an excerpt from yesterday’s rally.

We are human beings.

Residents of the South Ward come down Broad Street with over 1500 people in their contingent.
Residents of the South Ward come down Broad Street with over 1500 people in their contingent.

Occupy the City: Newark August 2015

Occupy the City: If you believe in a god, make him show up.

On August 8, 2015, approximately 8000 people marched through their neighborhoods in Newark to demand an end to violence. From all 5 wards, people convened at Broad and Market, demonstrating their unity as a city. Here, Mayor Baraka speaks addresses the causes that propel young men into a life of violence and what we can do about it. Click the link below to hear Mayor Baraka.

Mayor Baraka, Occupy the City

Mutoid Man at Saint Vitus, 8.7.15

As soon as I met Nick Cageo, I knew he was a reincarnate of Randy Rhoads and Leather from Happy Days. All great things of the 70’s. I met him first while he was playing with BroHammer. (Awesome? Hilarious?)  Months later, I was meeting with Rick Ernst, Director of “Get Thrashed”. And I was like, is that Nick Cageo on the cover of the DVD? Then, when Escape, a metal band from Cuba who sold their souls to come to NYC to play with Goatwhore at Vitus, there was Nick again, letting us use his bass amp. Three awesome things in a row. That’s usually all you get. But here is Nick again, rising above the barometer of human coolness playing bass in Mutoid Man. Mutoid Man cures cancer, saves the environment and destroys rich people. Or, I imagine I would feel the same kind of euphoria if any of those things happened as I did when I heard Mutoid Man Saturday night. In all instances, the world is a better place. You can experience this sense of oneness as well, here: Mutoid Man: Bleeder

Remembering Amy Winehouse or Who Will Save Rock and Roll?

About two weeks ago, my best friend Michael and I met up at a free concert at South Street Sea Port in NYC. The vintage post 30’s NY crowd was neatly arranged into hot hipsters, stubbled ink clad men in perfect fitting blue jeans with an array of runway girlfriends with red red puckered lips and long black fingernails. We are all sinners and I was strutting around with my antique camera that screams, I’m shooting film! I’m the most vintage!

As the extras took their place as audience in this mellow drama, I adjusted my light meter, positioned my camera and, action!

But not really. The headlining band took the stage, although “took” might be too strong an action to describe what they were doing. The best thing they had going was the guitar player’s hair cut, (long on the sides, bangs in the front) and, as in most situations, the woman, the drummer, doing all the work, barely visible in the back. Something with distortion and long drawn out, lingering chords and it was all very boring.

What’s so important about you? I said, to the band or nobody in particular. And after a couple of songs, we left.

IF we travel back in time to 2006, “Back to Black” hits the United States.

Not what’s so important about you, but “Ms. Winehouse, you are so important.”

There is a space where we all get lost. We begin this journey for different reasons. Those of us without any positive relationship models or control of our hormones possibly took our first steps as adolescents or teenagers. Some may have smacked into this wall, completely unaware, convinced that their relationship to love and romance was infallible.

It’s an awful place. Full of pain and self doubt, suffering and heartache, other girl-women who are prettier than you, cheap vodka, American Spirits, and Amy Winehouse Songs.

It didn’t matter that she was 10 years younger than me, this skinny little bitch was belting out shit from I don’t know what, and what? I knew exactly what she was talking about and she took my lack of self-control and low self-esteem and made it, well, she made it sexy. All my indiscretions, all my indecipherables, all my indefensible actions… she made them cool.

I embraced my inner Amy Winehouse and wore my darkness like a badge of honor, like anyone who ever had their heartbroken and smashed to pieces did post-2006. Her songs were a weapon to fight off the darkness, a tool you could use to begin to climb yourself out.

And I feel like we all drink a little too much to try and cushion the blow when we somehow fall, stumble, careen into love with an unwitting rival who can’t or won’t reciprocate our misguided advances, right?

Except, on my way out of the darkness I could graduate from my inner Amy Winehouse and evolve, slowly, finding strength in my inner Kathleen Hanna, and then solace in my inner PJ Harvey, until I reached the light and could see myself again.

It’s easy to say Amy didn’t like what she saw when she found herself again, but I can’t help but think about some mitigating circumstances, about some meddlesome parties who maybe wouldn’t give her the right mirrors so she could see herself as the light of the sun that she was.

Manic and hungry, she was assaulted by an unforgiving media, comprised of unevolved and unvisionary spokespeople against anything useful or pretty who made easy jabs at a young girl who was really, a prodigy, and had a problem with drugs.

It’s a terrible thing to watch someone you love be consumed by drugs. I can’t imagine what this time means to her family and friends and fans. Addicts are the only ones who can control themselves and get sober. But sometimes it helps when someone is shining a light into the darkness and giving you some direction so you can figure how to get the fuck out.

The media who now lament her passing, who as recently as Belgrade masked petty opportunistic gossip for music news, relished her in her self destruction, needed Amy sprawled on the ground bleeding from her fingers and starving from her belly so they could justify their existence.

And I can’t help but think whenever something was posted on youtube or with every comment on late night comedy disparaging this young woman who was doing something truly amazing, who was shining a light in our darkness, they were looking at all of us, right in the eyes, asking, “What’s so important about you?”

Travel to Cuba? 10 Ways to not act like an American American while you are there

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Now that travel restrictions have eased, Americans from across the country have been posting their travel plans all over FaceBook and Twitter about how they are going to fly to Havana. I am really enthralled by the new developments, the travel ban is political segregation that allows both the US and Cuban governments to promote false ideas about who we are to each other. However, I know Americans too well. I am an American. And while I love us, I know that most of you are complete morons when it comes to traveling to another country because you say you want an authentic experience and then complain the whole time because it’s not exactly like where you live and work every day.

You can secretly confess to yourself this is you and in the spirit of the new year take this advice to heart so when you buy your roundtrip ticket to Havana you don’t make Cuba rethink their decision to normalize relations with the US.

1READ A BOOK. NO, READ TWO.

The relationship between Cuba and the US is one that is presented in the US media as a black and white issue from both the left and the right perspective. Meaning, that any documentary or film you’ve seen on Cuba is presented as “Fidel is the devil, Cuba is a prison,” or “Fidel is an angel, Cuba is a socialist paradise.” Neither of these are true. Both of these are true. But before you go, really do some research. Even a rudimentary look into the complex and multi-layered history will make your trip worthwhile and make you look like less of a goofball.

2. GO PREPARED.

Do not expect to find tampons, batteries, aspirin, shampoo, fresh panties, socks, rain ponchos, pens, disc cards for your camera, anything for your camera, shoes, clothes, medicine, books, whatever other things you think you will need. They do have clothes, obviously, but the selection is little, the quality is poor, and the price is expensive. Batteries are probably expired. When I first arrived in Havana to shoot “They Will Be Heard,” a doc on Cuban heavy metal, Jennifer Hernandez and Yando Coy and I walked around for no less than 4 hours going to each “mall” to find a pillow. They didn’t have any pillow for less than $25 dollars and they were used or dirty or flat or whatever. I took to rolling up my jeans or drooling on my arm. One day, I am not exaggerating, I walked around for 4 hours looking for toilet paper. They do have books in the book stores but they are either about the Cuban revolution, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or surprisingly, written by Wayne Dyer and in spanish.

3. GO PREPARED.

Bring tampons, batteries, aspirin, shampoo, fresh panties, socks, rain ponchos, pens, t-shirts, especially band t-shirts, any old digital camera you don’t use anymore preferably with a rechargeable battery, clothes, medicine and books to give away to all the awesome Cuban people you meet. I brought all my cd’s to give away since anything I want I can access digitally.

4. BE HUMBLE.

Joan of Arc was a martyr. You are not. Cubans have endured 50 years of bullying by America and not only have they resisted, they have risen and in very difficult circumstances achieved amazing accomplishments in sports, education, literacy, medicine and culture. The ordinary Cuban deals with difficulties and inconveniences on a daily basis. No one wants to hear you complain about the condition of your hotel room. Many times while filming “They Will Be Heard“, the band was like, “You should make a movie about you trying to make the movie!” I knew that any difficulties or obstacles I was facing were temporary. I knew that I could always leave, I was leaving. And when I did get frustrated or impatient, it was immediately followed by a crushing sense of shame since all the Cubans I was in contact with were always positive and upbeat even though they dealt with water shortages and rolling black outs all the time. Let me put it this way: things are so horrible in Cuba that when members of Escape came to Jersey City, they thought the PATH train was the best thing ever.

 

5. IF YOU’RE NOT THAT GOOD LOOKING HERE, YOU’RE NOT THAT GOOD LOOKING IN CUBA.

While we all like to have our international love affairs when we travel, Cubans bring it to a whole new level. My first Cuban love was dreamy. He was a bass player for one of the emerging bands at the time, he was spiritual, like rasta spiritual, sensitive, his dreadlocks were perfect…our week long affair wasn’t just a wonderful memory we shared, it was marked by an emotional goodbye at the airport, promises of eternal love, yes, our love would bring down the blockade. Of course I wired him $300 a month later.

Listen, in New York, I’m probably like a four, maybe on a good day a five and a half. This guy was smoking hot. If you find yourself in a hot romance with a severe mismatch, stay focused, Enjoy yourself, but don’t get embroiled in some kind of Cuban romance. You are a walking ticket to financial freedom, a means to get a new color television or visa. Some Cubans, ever practical, aren’t just looking to hook up, they are maximizing how much they can get out of the relationship. These people are called, “jinoteros” or horse jockeys. You are the horse.

On that note, you want to socialize with Cubans. Beers are a dollar. Buy everyone a beer. Cigarettes are a dollar. Share your cigarettes. Cubans will give you whatever they have. No matter who I approached on the street, they would immediately offer whatever they had in their hands to me, a piece a cake, a sip of rum. They are experts in the field of sharing. Be generous.

6. DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT THE FOOD.

My father left our family when I was 11 years old. My mother basically raised us by herself. She worked all the time. When I came home from school, I had to cook for myself. That’s why, when I ordered a spaghetti dinner and got some spaghetti with melted butter on top with a side of sliced cucumber, it was very familiar to me and brought back all of the abandonment issues I thought I left behind with my EMDR therapy.

When my Cuban friends and I met up with another American in the plaza, we decided to celebrate and we ordered lobster. I always thought there was just one way to make lobster, to boil it. Apparently, there is another way: rubbery and hard to chew. Don’t complain, do not send it back, just plan on having a terrible culinary experience so that if it’s just relatively not tasty, it will seem like a gourmet meal!

On a side note, if dinner is terrible, you always have room for dessert and you can get delicious pastries almost anywhere!

7. NOTHING THERE MAKES SENSE.

Half the time I was shooting in Havana, I was like “Am I understanding you correctly or is my spanish just completely terrible?” When immigration discovered that I was staying at my friend Justo’s house, the lady said, “You better be here at 8 am tomorrow morning!” At 8 am we arrived and no one knew why we were there but we were told to wait. Three hours later some one came to see us.

When I went to the office to renew my visa that the travel guide to Cuba published the year before told me to go to, (an hour away by bus), the guy at that place said, “No, you need to go to the office that is located 5 minutes away from where you are staying!” (Smiling, always smiling. Somehow everyone there is always in a good mood.)

When I finally got my visa from the Cuban Music Institute to film, I was told to get two id photos before going to the office. I got to the office and they said, “Why do you have these photos?”

When you are on a bus coming back from somewhere and the bus breaks down, do not ask how you will get home. Just do what the other Cubans are doing, sitting there waiting. Do not be the only person complaining (American) and yelling out “What’s going on? What’s going on?”

If you are on a bus and the bus driver pulls over to talk to a friend of his, just sit in your seat and wait. Think of Cuba as a big DMV pre-2000. Expect to wait. Expect to be inconvenienced. Bring a Wayne Dyer book to read and practice  your Spanish.

8. BRING CONDOMS

People are posting online that Cuba gives aways condoms for free. This is true. These condoms are for Cubans who don’t have access to every single type of condom in the world in an aisle of their grocery store. Bring your own condoms.

9. JUST UNPLUG FOR THE WEEK. 

Don’t bother with trying to instagram or tweet. Just be in the moment. Use the internet sparingly. The internet is very slow and very expensive. Like my friend Michele said, spend less time with FaceBook, and more time with faces and books.

10. GO TO MAXIM ROCK!

My film, “They Will Be Heard” is mainly about Cuban metal band Escape. But the entire metal scene in Cuba is pretty serious business. Maxim Rock embodies that metal scene which you can read all about in David Peisner’s article, “The Red Menace”. After you shake your ass in salsa class, go bang your head to some Cuban metal!

Food For Thought, an American Palate in Cuba

The following, “Food For Thought” was originally published in August of 2009 as part of “The Great Escape; Tales from when I left my mediocre existence to make a movie about Cuban metal band Escape.”

To compensate for my terrible taste in men, I’ve been granted the uncanny ability to go to third world countries, infamous for food shortages, where people having been wearing the same underwear for 6 years, and get a heaping plate of food as soon as I walk in the door. I’m in a country where each family is allocated a small portion of ground coffee each month, and yet the first two words I hear every morning are “Quieres cafe? Quieres cafe?” Invites became so frequent, that in a short time I was insulted, curious, indignant when I wasn’t fed at someone’s house. Is something wrong? I thought. Maybe they forgot. Maybe they forgot my four-course meal. With coffee at the end. The kind they get only once a month.

I don’t know if it’s my (¡terrible!) spanish that leads my Cuban friends to think I am completely incapable of feeding myself, or if this kindness and hospitality is typical. I am walked across the street, fed, nourished, hugged, burped, encouraged, changed, and fed again. This kindness stripped me not only of my defenses, but also of common sense. I didn’t need to do anything. Julian, poppy, the daddy of the house I live in, got sick for three days. I was rendered defenseless. Me, the New Yorker with the “Hi, this is Tracey and I’m out doing whatever I want,” voice mail message looked in his kitchen at the stove and pans with wonder and bewilderment. I was like three-year old Helen Keller, with the spatula in my hand, with no one to spell it out (in spanish) on my palm.

I am grateful for this kindness. Cuba is a tough country. The men on the street are aggressive. Sometimes there just is “No Hay.” The Spanish is rapid and relentless. It’s a wonderful thing to go to a country other than your own and have a community there that has somehow collaborated in the maintenance of your well-being. But I am unable, really, to eat any more meat. When a heaping plate of food is placed in front of me, there is invariably a huge chunk of pig right in the middle of it. I’m a buddhist! I whine internally, which comes out like, “Muchas, gracias! Que rico!” Ten years ago, I would have been content to suck on dirty cardboard to affirm my support of the Cuban revolution. I would have been extolling the virtues of free education and health care happily shoving dog shit into my mouth. In my older age, I am the gloomy taco bell of Cuba, remixing the same four ingredients in a different pile trying to create the illusion of a new dish to sustain me over the next 5 months. Sure, fresh mango juice every day sounds delicious until you’ve lived it for like 4 weeks. And you become aware that this is all there is. Kombucha anyone? Carrot juice with spirulina?

I never liked chicken. And fish is out of the question since the fiery god of hellfire food poisoning bestowed upon me a wrath so great that I was expunging from every orifice, okay, both orifices, of my body. I don’t know if you’ve ever shared the toilet with your mouth and your ass but the pornography of it all has left me dependent on Omega 3’s.

Cuban markets are full of mangos, avocados, pinas and papayas mixed in with other vegetables I don’t recognize. Sometimes eggs. The string beans are always the color of string beans in a can. Gone are the days of Aki’s cooking, of “just a taste” of her Japanese curry. Gone are the nights of left over pasta dishes contrived by Micheal and purchased at Trader Joes. Of heavenly whorish imperialist isles of Whole Foods.

Like any good lefty, I took to the streets. If you want to eat street food, there is an assortment of ham like things. Hammish? Hammy? Ham-oriented. Of pig origin. Once I bought a croquette sandwich, and then I was pretty sure I saw Julian feed the same croquettes to his cats. I realized that I could be eating something very similar to the meat like substances served to poor black children in Newark, the biological warfare against our youth, masked as school lunch, and, viewed through that lens, I swore off any street meat. Which left me the option of pizza and batidos, or milkshakes. Yay! My 12 year old dreams come true. But I saw my skin pallor change. Pallor, I thought. I’m too young to have pallor. But that’s what happens when you eat something pizza-y or pizza-ish and milkshakes every day.

Like any good American, I looked to buy my way out of the situation. There are stores just for tourist money. Very expensive stores. Very expensive stores that sell brands that aren’t exactly tomato sauce or peanut butter or spaghetti but something like it. A representation. Red And White. The color of your blood cells before consuming these foods injected with an unnecessary and gratuitous amount of sugar. To mask the taste of chemicals. Red and White. Red no. 6. White no. 9.

The last time I saw a generic brand like Red and White that has emerged somehow unmolested by the FDA, actually the last time that I asked “Isn’t this how you get colon cancer?” with regards to my eating habits, was when I lived in Newark, NJ. Where there is no blockade I am aware of. The economic blockade against Cuba not only prevents any trade between the US and Cuba, except for symbolic gestures between farmers facilitated by Jimmy Carter or something like that, but if you are a company trading with Cuba from another country, you cannot enter American ports for three months. And a whole bunch of other punitive measures as included by the Helms-Burton act.

So Cuban stores have really shitty food. At least they have an excuse. One of the strongest countries in the world has waged a prolonged, deliberate, malicious, inhumane expensive campaign aimed at toppling their government. Or maybe Newark, like Detroit, like Camden, like all those other cities in the US with their store shelves lined with representations of food and vegetables, maybe they have an excuse too.

The carrot and the stick policy doesn’t work usually, and it certainly doesn’t work in terms of toppling a government. Fifty years after the blockade, Cubans aren’t rallying in the streets for American style democracy (Hello Florida, 2000) or begging us to come and save them and erect StarBucks all along the Malecon. Politics isn’t a big issue in most households, where families eat dinner together and watch (¡terrible!) novellas. And Animal Planet. And wear Converse All Stars. And listen to the Beatles and Barbara Streisand. They drink beer. They eat meat. They share. Their food. That they don’t have. And in the morning, when they wake up, they sweep the floors and make breakfast.

Quieres Cafe?

 

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