Alone again, or - Page 2

Stew & Lightspeed Champion evoke the Afro-Baroque between the boom-bip bip and the ballot

Rather, when he exhorts freedom from the podium with Arthur's Little Red Book, Stew makes me wanna holler in Little Richard's whoo-hoo! and reach back to my Baptist pastor granddaddy's church in Georgia for my pious MLK Jr. hand fan with the wavy popsicle stick handle.

To wit: I have seen Passing Strange several times since being taken to see it for my birthday last spring at the Public Theatre (Mayday! Mayday!). While I applaud its leap to Broadway as a lifelong supporter of black difference and arts, my obsession with it is purely personal. Aside from Stevie Wonder at a distance, whose mother died a month before mine in 2006, no one feels my pain nor comes as close to articuutf8g the loss as Stew's play. A mid-Atlantic chile from the opposite coast, I, like Stew, come from a restrictive Christian background — A.M.E. partisans on the maternal side and preaching as virtual family biniss on the paternal — that would condemn and cast me out for my atheism. Like me at an Allmans concert, Passing Strange is a spook in the Broadway buttermilk, probing the deep history of rock 'n' roll incubation and conservatism in the black church.

Although Stew's a decade older than I, I also spent my youth in the '70s plotting how to dance my way out of the constrictions of the black bourgeoisie horrorshow. And I loved punk and other subcultural provocations for the anarchic possibilities they presented in terms of society and style. Above all, I, too, long mistook songs for love — until now, when I'm in the grips of a hurt that music ultimately cannot heal. But while I appreciate my education abroad, I differ from Stew on the Europa-as-Utopia tip. Nothing breeds contempt like familiarity.


Stew's alter-ego, Youth, comments that, "America can't deal with freaky Negroes!" So there's always been black in the Union Jack, leastways when it comes to rock 'n' roll — from Brian Jones's ace boon Jimi Hendrix through to today's new eccentric Lightspeed Champion. The UK has been perennially more hospitable to creative Africans who would be free, despite Ruth Owen of Mama Shamone's faintly damning radio doc of last year, which took the pulse of the black rock orbit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lightspeed Champion reminds me less of this 'n' that name-checked Britpopper than Modesto's recently retired armchair critic of freeway flight and exurban strip-mall anomie: Granddaddy's Jason Lytle. Perhaps this cracked Americana element stole into the proceedings since Hynes recorded his solo debut in Omaha amongst the cabal of Bright Eyes' Saddle Creek-dippers, but it seems such wry "from inside the scene looking out" songs as "Everyone I Know Is Listening to Crunk" suggest the subjectivity of a disaffected young man looking for a room of his own far from the urban, madding crowd of druggies, chavs, and black authenticity dealers that surround its narrator. Like Lytle's renovation of country and western — with an emphasis on restoring the western part of the early twentieth century modern genre from the perspective of what happens when America's run out of room for expansion — Lightspeed Champion's brand of high lonesome is borne out of England's dreaming during the insular nation's nightmarish era of being "overrun" by immigrants, urban blight, and various forms of terrorism.

It is rather fascinating that Texas-born Hynes should have escaped parochial black American life due to his itinerant parents' lifestyle only to seek out Omaha-as-omphalos for requisite head space to craft his new opus, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge (Domino). Why? Precisely because it's his attaining maturity in England that permitted Hynes to become the swooning, anxious, vulnerable almost to the point of fey version of black manhood that pervades his finely wrought songs.

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