Abbas Kiarostami, Rest in Peace

Rest in peace, Abbas Kiarostami. I remember when he had his moment in the U.S., when Taste of Cherry made its rounds. It’s nothing to say that it’s a fantastic bit of cinema. It just is. I remember thinking how much I loved his lingering without ponderous sense of shot and attention to landscape, how…

Eight Thoughts on Chi-Raq

Eight thoughts on Chi-Raq, which I’ve just rewatched after missing it at the theater. I have to say, it was a completely and totally different film than I’d been led to expect by blogs, reviews, and the normal blowup that comes with a Spike Lee joint.

Note on Vijay Iyer

Here are the comments I made introducing Vijay Iyer at the 28 January 2016 Hutchins Center colloquium at Harvard, with links to text and examples. … Introducing Vijay Iyer It is an immense pleasure and honor to introduce Vijay Iyer today, Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts in the Department of Music….

James Carr’s dark ends

One of the pleasures of the shuffle setting on my music player is random re-discovery. James Carr, a Memphis legend and mystery, showed up a few days back and I’ve had his music on repeat since. He is such a special singer, one of those incredible figures from Memphis’ small label tradition: Goldwax, Stax, Hi….

Solidarity and cultural politics

I’ve never been a fan of how Pete Seeger renders American folk songs. His voice and musical arrangement never connected with me much at all. The voice is a bit too soaring and the arrangement a bit too, I don’t know – that thing you can’t quite name, but is how you feel and connect…

Michael Crabtree as racial remainder

I hesitated to write about what can now only be called The Richard Sherman Incident. I hesitated because the rhetoric and meaning of it all was so fraught, and it seemed, and still does seem, that there are obvious ideas I find deeply offensive (the racialized language of “classy,” “classless,” and the like) and that…

Race, Apology, and Ani DiFranco

The time of social media events is short, so writing a few words on Ani DiFranco’s apology (or apologetically toned press release) is at this point probably already out of date. Still, the talk around her event – a now-canceled plan to host a retreat at a plantation house – raises the most American of…

Baldwin, language, spirituals

The function of the spirituals in the African-American intellectual tradition is well-known, especially in the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke – for both, the spirituals work as a foundation to the tradition. The spirituals are an enigma. They represent content as both lyric and sound; indeed, the distinction between those two forms…