That NEW Adage

A pressure-relief valve about God, and just about everything else.

Dignity and the Made-Up Name

My name is Derrick. My sisters, Cassandra, Karin, and Kim all have what you would call standard, regular American English names.

My son’s name is Max Ellis, and my daughter’s name is, Diana Elise. I wanted masculine, straight-to-the-point, famous-sounding names for the boys, and feminine, delicate names for the girls. And I wanted them to have jobs. Jobs where they didn’t have to wear visors or steel-toed boots. I– we— didn’t want to handcuff our kids to a crusade by short-sightedly giving them names which would easily allow bigots to exercise their prejudices.

We black folk — and you white folk too, admit it — talk from time to time about the “phenomenon” of the made-up name — the Shaniqua, the Montevion, and the Equarious (a strange mixture of geography and an adjective).

I’m not talking about ETHNIC names.

I will admit to being, at times, a little ashamed when watching a college basketball game and having to wince while the play-by-play man stumbles over the names. It is almost as though you can predict who was raised by two parents (Shane Battier, Blake Griffin, Grant Hill), and who wasn’t (DeVanta, Jumawl, LaQuon, “I’d like to thank my mama who raised me…”)

I know a guy, a nice kid, named “Rarecas.” His mom was obviously trying to spell, “Rodriguez,” but missed BADLY! I know Shatericas and Uniquas and Treyvions. They show up on the news and in classrooms all over the country. There are mainstream websites (with white faces on the homepages) where you can pick a nice name of your own for your newborn.

In practically every case, the economic heritage of those with the cute made-up name is that of “less-than.” Poor black folk.

I was just wondering about the whole thing, and came to this conclusion: Folk who name their kids, Lasswon and Bearcolt (REAL names!!!) do so because that is the only thing they can do that costs not a dime! It is the one thing they can give their children (in their minds) that will give them some sense of CLASS and elegance.

They don’t have inheritances and dowries and silver spoons and trust funds and birthday cars with red bows in circular driveways and summer vacations to give.

All they can give is a French-sounding name beginning in De-something, or one with a lot of “Q’s” in it. Everybody knows that if it’s French, it says, “Class.” And if the middle name is “Nicole” that is the coupe de maitre!

As we say around my way, “Black folk like nice stuff, too!” In a messed up kind of way, that is all that is going on.

So, how about exhibiting a little grace and understanding (not conservative traits, to be sure!) the next time you see a NutraGina, or an Alize, or Shardinnay other alcohol-monikered black person. Connor, Brad, and Chadwick would have a hard time in the ‘hood!

Besides, we don’t judge YOU because some celebrity named his child, Apple, Pilot Inspektor, Banjo, Dweezil, Moon Unit, Racer, or Tu Morrow.

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June 12, 2009 Posted by | Babies, Baby Names, Ghetto Names, Hollywood, Humor, Names | 9 Comments

Death Wears Three Shoes. Two Have Fallen…

“Hey, Derrick, we got a possible session comin’ up, and it’s BIG. I don’t wanna say anything yet, ’cause I might jinx it,” my trumpet player friend, Marc Franklin, told me a couple of months ago.

I didn’t press the issue because I’ve had a number of false alarms in the past.

It turns out that it IS happening. Tomorrow, August 11, we are (were) scheduled to play behind Anthony Hamilton and other notables on the soundtrack of the upcoming movie, “Soul Men” directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Spike’s cousin,  starring Samuel L. Jackson, the late Bernie Mac, and the — Lord, help us — late Isaac Hayes! I didn’t even have a chance to be happy about the whole thing because Marc had played everything so close to his vest that I didn’t even know that I was to be part of the music to the movie. I was fired up about the chance to shoot my shot with r&b artist Hamilton.

It hurt to hear about Bernie Mac simply because he was so genuine and funny. I always loved that dude. I didn’t even know I was working on his LAST FILM!

And then today, as I was at my folks’ house trying to get my usual Sunday afternoon nap (since I don’t ever go to sleep on Saturday nights anymore), I heard Kathy screaming from the distance and getting ever closer to where I was. “Isaac Hayes just died!” I sat up.

“WHAT?!?”

“They killin’ all the black people!!” she lamented. “First Bernie, now this! I can’t take it! Who next?!?” She was pretty upset.

You know they always say these things come in threes.

So, needless to say, tomorrow’s session is cancelled. See, Isaac is in the movie, too (unbeknownst to me), and the guys who played on the “Shaft” score with him, Skip Pitts (wa wa guitar) and Willie Hall (all those drums), are in the group that I often play with, and they are doing this project. They were at the studio when they got the news, and it was, I’m told, not pretty.

Isaac is the icon of Memphis music. He was one of the pioneers who got out and did it BIG. I can say with honor that I have played with him a few times and have spoken with him. Cool dude! Truck Turner in the flesh!  And, as I found out, he was a real musician who knew the music.

I was playing in the horn section at a NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) event a couple of years ago (nearly eerily where I met Morgan Freeman). We were honoring hometown Stax Records and Memphis musicians, among them William Bell, Justin Timberlake (when he was still with Cameron Diaz), and Isaac Hayes.

At a rehearsal, he came in to check out the band. We were working on a song of his, and one of the charts had some funny voicings for the horns. Isaac came over with a smile and asked us to play what was on the paper. I was like, “Man! Isaac Hayes is right in front of me listening to me play! Don’t mess up!”

We got into it, and I thought I was killin’ it when he stopped us…

“Play that again. Just the horns,” he baritoned. (“Wow! Sounds jus’ like hisself! I kin dig it!”)

We played the section again, and he looked at me and stopped us again. “Gimme your chart.” Cool as butter.

“See this ‘B’ right here? Play a ‘B’ flat. ” He basically re-voiced the whole chord. But I thought, “Naw. That ain’t right. He must have mis-read it. This is like major, and that note ain’t even in the key. It’s gonna clash, and everbody is gonna think it was me. He IS kinda old. I’m ‘on play a ‘B’ natural.”

So we played it again. See, I’m trying to impress Isaac Hayes with my abilities.

“Stop. Did you play that ‘B’ flat like I told you?”

My black face turned red. On the inside. “Aw. My bad. I musta missed it.”

He was still smiling at me.

So we hit it again, and I played the ‘B’ flat. Man, that chord rang out as pretty and altered as some Miles or some Monk or something!!

I looked up at Isaac and he had a grin on his face wider than an Atlanta expressway! I couldn’t do anything but laugh! We spoke no words, but here is what we said:

“Isaac! Maaaannn, you know yo’ stuff!”

“Yeahhh, young buck, they ain’t just invent music five years ago. I’m thru wit’ stuff you ain’t even heard of yet!”

“I’m impressed! My daddy got your records, but that whuppin’ you just gave me raises you waaay up in my book! I ain’ gone never forget this lesson! (I break verbs an assault adjectives and murder modifiers in my thoughts.)”

“You keep on playin’. You gone be all right. Just listen to the old heads.”

All that with a glance and two smiles. Isaac Hayes is — was — thorough! And now, he’s in the hands of the Lord.

Death hurts. The living as well as the departed, maybe the living hurt more. It is cool to have a few memories, but the pain of all this is a memory, too, and they kind of all go together. Otherwise, it would be like watching the first thirty minutes of a movie and leaving before the end.

I never got the chance to even wonder what it would be like to talk to Bernie Mac at the premiere. And the fact that I have interacted with Hayes makes his passing even more poignant.

It’s just not right to be speaking of these men in the past tense.

August 11, 2008 Posted by | Bernie Mac, Celebrity, Current Events, Death, Hollywood, Isaac Hayes, Life, Movies, Music, News, Show Business, Soul Men, Work | 5 Comments

Bows of Holly

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago. In light of current occurrences, I thought it apropos… You’ll get it before it ends. Once again, it has meter and rhyme — something that is not entirely in vogue. 

She’s the shining star we all desire

That none can ever rule

Your heart burns for her like a fire

But you are just her tool

She’s the old man’s broken dream

And yet the young boy’s folly

Slicker than a bowl of steam

People call her “Holly”

The face she wears is stunning, though

A most deceptive guise

Her whim will bring you running, though

Her wiles confound the wise

Being seen with her will frame

The diffident secure

Her colder shoulder, though, will name

The confident demure

Morally, she knows no bounds

She’ll draw you to the pit

You marvel at the sights and sounds

And beg for one more “hit”

She’s a fickle paramour

Her lovers span the globe

Their broken hearts on every shore

Still blinded by the strobe

She takes them, chews them up, and spits

Them out like melon seeds

When wined and dined and danced, she quits

Them once they’ve met her needs

What makes a person while so vain,

So ceaselessly divine?

The prize, when won, soon soaks the brain

In salty pickle brine

It could be our necessity

For fortune and for glory

Perhaps we find it best to be

The center of the story

It seems that most would pawn the heart

For billing and a statue

And wouldn’t you tear your soul apart

To have the world look at you?

The masses court disaster for

A night in Babylon

(Of) Illusion she’s the master, for

You’ll wake and she’ll be gone

Your puerile fantasy becomes

A living, breathing hell

The ruling sounds are pounding drums,

And sorrow’s telling knell

You wonder if she really cared

Somewhere down deep within

But in the dark she only bared

A wicked, mordant grin

She prances with the attitude

Of one who knows she’s wanted

She peppers you with platitudes

Her skill is widely vaunted

She seems to prosper, seems to thrive

But most will never know

That Holly needs us to survive

She’ll never let it show

For if we turned our backs on her

She’d wither like a leaf

She hides it well, would much prefer

To revel in our grief

So lose you will on Beverly’s hill

Or dip where Sunset strips

Dance the dance and take your fill

Of Holly’s poison lips

The Siren’s not resisted, so

Don’t stray within her range

The melody is twisted, so

Will certainly derange

Who would grind your soul to powder

Crush you into dust?

Whose seductive song grows louder

Begging for your trust?

Who would rip your heart asunder

Meaning you no good?

(You) Know the answer, needn’t wonder

Surely — Holly would!

Copyright 2001, Derrick L. Williams

January 31, 2008 Posted by | Current Events, Entertainment, Hollywood, Metaphor, Morality, Movies, Poetry | 4 Comments