James FormanLast week at Rosenthal Library Auditorium, civil rights leader Julian Bond was invited as distinguished guest speaker to celebrate the acquisition of The James Forman Library for the QC Civil Rights Archive.  James Forman was an executive secretary and active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  Julian Bond – who as a student at Morehouse College spearheaded protest action from the booths of Yates & Milton Drugstore in Atlanta, GA. – joined the SNCC as communications director, and among other things worked with photographer Danny Lyons to document the Movement.

Africana Studies Director Dr. Julmisse opened the evening with cogent and evocative remarks.   QC president Dr. Muykens introduced Mr. Bond, and did not buck any cliches about the campus-comedy dean, as he numerously referred to the James Forman collection as “papers,” when the acquisition is not Forman’s papers, but his personal library of books.  Forman’s papers are in the Library of Congress.  Not the gravest error, but a conspicuous one.  Archivists are up in arms over that crusty old dean.

James Forman’s son, James, Jr., spoke humbly and enthusiastically, and attested to the sublimating effect of Julian Bond as a speaker. And Julian was masterful.  He provoked, quipped, stated statistics with the narrative command with which he also deployed rhetorical tricks.  He looked back to the 1960s, when the movement was alive with change, and he was keen to the ravages going forward.   Summing up the old days with the new, he used a device the Greeks called Antanaclasis, noting that back then “good music was popular, and Popular Music was good.”  Julian must have seen the tribute to Aretha Franklin at last week’s Grammy Awards.
Julian Bond Saturday Night Live 1
Watch footage of Julian Bond’s remarks here.

Mr. Bond had the style of a seminal toastmaster, if the subject of the roast was Race in the United States.  Race was not about skin, but power.  Race trumps education, health care and war.  In James Forman’s autobiography, Making of Black Revolutionaries, Forman is passionate about reading and knowledge, and repulsed by his service in the Air Force, where institutional racism is the suppressor of the active life of the mind.

Julian Bond Saturday Night Live 2Julian made clear his own stance, dropping phrases about “right-wingers” and ‘Tea Baggers.”  Though he promotes the role of government in creating civic and social justice, he also founds his approach to government by the faith that government can be caused to change.  That it is by nature an organic body in flux, not a bedrock that refuses the drill of the people.  The setting is ripe for action, in a world where once “banks lent to people, instead of people lending to banks.”  Julian is both a veteran of the Atlanta Senate chambers and the stage of Saturday Night Live.  On SNL (which is available to watch on Netflix, season 2, episode 18, with Brick and Tom Waits as musical guests), Julian is more ready to play prime time than the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, and the skits skewer race and exploit white politics.  He opens the show on stage in a 3-piece suit, reciting a litany of his past accomplishments, and concludes that his appearance on the show was not based on his pedigree, but only because they wanted a “chocolate Easter bunny.” It’s archival Julian Bond Saturday Night Live 4evidence that Saturday Night Live was once counterculture.

This semester, Campus Whits will be working to accession James Forman’s Library, 75 boxes of books on Southern history, NVA pamphlets, true-crime Mafia paperbacks, subscriptions to Marxist journals, handouts on health, and FBI reports.  James Forman was enlightened and pugnacious and determined, and his revolution, unlike much freedom fighting, was nonviolent.  As the event at Queens College Rosenthal Library came to end, a handful vets of the movement stood up and chanted “We Shall Overcome.”  It was the first time I’d heard it live.  Louis Armstrong has his own version.

Julian Bond

Queens College & LAX Airport

December 14, 2010

Campbell Dome, Queens College, Flushing, NY.

The Theme Building, LAX Airport, Los Angeles, CA.





Tofu Scratch Parade

October 14, 2010

One is often the most productive the more one has on their plate. Sometimes it feels like you gotta go out shopping for dishes, but the more you juggle the more things you might clearly and leanly scratch off the list without having to get too scratched.

There are signs all over the campus of Queens College instructing students how to successfully wash their hands.

After all, the swine flu did first pop-up in the QC neighborhood, as it also did at St. Bridgid’s School around the corner from my old apartment in Wyckoff Heights. But surely grammar school kids are wiping boogers on the same sign in school toilets all over town.

In Hell’s Kitchen last Sunday, I encountered a Peruvian parade, the Hermandad de del Señor de los Milagros de New York in Hell’s Kitchen.

Gray Line is advertising tofu on its buses. I hope some of the tofuvenues are going to the union dues on my paycheck.

I have been hosting a radio show on the campus station, WQMC, which is livestreamed at www.wqmcradio.com, every Wednesday eve at 9:15PM for about an hour after class. I’m not sure if anyone except my mom and a few friends are tuning in, and my Aunt Jennie in Ohio,and my brother in Redondo Beach, CA. who archives all the shows – thanks Fud.  All in all, it’s a blast to host The Roister Show, which sets out a palimpsest of music, schpiels, mash-ups and comments by your host Roister.  I haven’t had much time to incorporate interviews, and the phone lines are screwed up in the studio so a call-in session is TBA. The guys in charge, Amrish and Juan, are good guys and run a whambang show down there in the bowels of the Student Union. Tune in people: Weds at 9:15!!!!.  All you QC Knights, let the Roister Show know of any campus doings or announcements you want shouted out on air. It’s not Pump of the Volume, alas, but it also isn’t The Z Morning Zoo.

Last week, the campus was looking fit and ripe and prime.

Loops & Booms

September 28, 2010

I started an internship last week at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I am not getting paid, and most likely not receiving credit towards my degree, but the internship is a currency worth more in value to my future than a paycheck. I am gaining my first experience in the archival world. I hadn’t been this nervous before a “first day” since taking the microphone and standing atop the red doubledecker bus for my first Downtown Loop, in 2004. Those jitters resulted from having to stand in front of an audience of 54 bus passengers for 3 hours, and come up with stuff to say about New York City along the route. It had nothing to do with any investment in a future career (in Western Europe, one must go to school in order to become a tour guide, but at Gray Line, one must simply have a pulse, which is what gives the job character).

Much has been made recently in the pop discourse about young people maturing later in life than they might have been expected to in previous generations, from cover articles in the New York Times Magazine to the subtext in the movie Cyrus. Baby Boomers have done a punchy job of stalling old age, like indulging youth-oriented market branding and co-opting the identities of subcultures.  Boomers are as ubiquitous on Facebook as are 18 years olds. Anyhow, I am going back to school in my 30s in order to get “a real job.” And it is to impugn one’s good intentions to use the post-Bailout era as a justification to take an unpaid internship. As said, this is currency of delicate value to my livelihood. And the Brooklyn Historical Society building, built in 1881, is an inspired place to spend a Friday, good for the constitution.  A magnificent Mauve Years terracotta emblazoned high-windowed Queen Anne monolith: antiquarian, resonant, invigorating, and itself archival.  And even if I won the Lotto tomorrow, I would still give bus tours at Gray Line on the weekends.

Robert Shaddy, Professor and Chief Librarian at Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library, made a guest appearance in class last week while our professor was off on some archival swashbuckling in South America. Dr. Shaddy was encouraging and eye-opening in his breakdown of the Special Collections at Rosenthal. I was especially piqued when he mentioned a potential new acquisition of materials to the Library’s theater collection: apparently the estate of Dom DeLuise, the portly and snide and nuanced comedian of the 1970s & 80s, wants to donate the actor’s theatrical materials to the College. Dom DeLuise was Burt Reynolds’ sidekick in the Cannonball Run movies, a Mel Brooks stock actor, and a regular zinger-slinger on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. Besides the scholarship of historical documents and the exegesis of rarefied information, this is the sort of thing that bolsters my decision to have entered library school.

I was not on campus when the tornado hit Sept. 16th. I stood on the 17th floor of the Croisic Building on 26th & Fifth Avenue, and watched from the window as the apocalyptic dark clouds rolled east over Manhattan. Dr. Ben Alexander, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Queens College Libraries, is requesting submissions of images of the campus that were captured during and after the storm. Contact Dr. Alexander at Benjamin.Alexander@qc.cuny.edu.  I drove to a wedding in the Hamptons the next day, and saw all the fallen trees along the Long Island Expressway.  Guests at the wedding who drove out the day before told stories of driving through the storm on the L.I.E., sharing lanes with maniac Queens drivers dodging tree trunks at 50 miles an hour.  My neighborhood in Brooklyn, Clinton Hill, got lambasted by the storm – vans buried under uprooted umbrage and streets closed off – but I didn’t take any pictures.

The Tingler

September 16, 2010

First class of the Fall semester, two weeks ago, was like a William Castle movie. William Castle was a gimmicky film director of 1950s era grade-B schlocky pulp horror movies that employed interactive gizmos in the theater to shock the audience. Movies like House on Haunted Hill featured “Emerg-O,” (a floating skeleton over the crowd) and Homicidal, which offered a “Fright Break” for terrified theater viewers, or Mr. Sardonicus, where audience members decided the fate of the characters by a “Punishment Poll.”

I’m not saying that, in my first class, the seats buzzed or Psychedelo-rama lit up the walls of Razran Hall, but that, instead of just rehashing the syllabus and overviewing the class material, the Prof. engaged the class to do stuff with objects, as a device to portray the nature of the course.  It is a Library & Info Science class, where I am studying for a Certificate in Archives and the Preservation of Cultural Materials.  Basically, I just wanna graduate and get to work with cool rare shit.

Usually students hate it when you have to pair up with other students right off the bat – the usual anti-biorhythm discomfort of unknowns – but it is typically a productive method.  A graduate studies program is especially a melting pot of intentions. In any classroom, the group dynamic is full throttle.  After having not be in a college classroom in thirteen years, it all came back in a hot swoop last spring 2009 when I first enrolled at QC. There is always the one or two people whose voices must be heard, by everyone, right away, and they must incessantly let teacher know that they get at all times what he/she is teaching, whether the student is psychically indisposed to chemical balance, or just a buttinsky.  Sometimes you want to turn around with reserve and tell them politely and quietly, OK, you can shush now.  Of course that would be bad scholarship.  Anyhow, these are only jarring exceptions to the enthusiastic camaraderie of intellect and multi-situational subtly of my uniquely peerless fellow library students – and future professional colleagues.

This past Labor Day weekend, I participated in a William Castle retrospective of his movie The Tingler, starring Vincent Price, at Film Forum on Houston Street.  In the movie, the Tingler is a giant half lobster-half cockroach creature that feeds off human fear, and strangles your neck with its two-pronged fore-claw.  At the appropriate scene in the movie, when the Tingler is let loose to wreak deadly havoc in a movie theater, the actual Film Forum theater went dark and the ushers caused panic with their flashlights, “The Tingler is in the theater!”  The audience screams, and I – a shill all along – stand up with a rubber Tingler around my neck, shrieking in death throes, and with the flashlights on my ravaged person I stagger out the exit door to perish.  It was a star performance to a sold out crowd – the old showbiz!

Fear factor aside, my involvement with The Tingler was an Archival experience, very relevant to my QC studies.  The technologies employed in William Castle movies are rarefied and vintage and long out of practice.  Film Forum’s repertory office of enlightened information scientists directed a series of performance with old-timey, unused and acutely collected  materials: the Tingler doll, seat-buzzers, LSD light shows, scripted actors, etc.  Ideas of theatrical instance come back to life, and the ticketed moviegoer is part of the action.  For me, an actorly participant and victim, I tried to get internship credit towards my Library Science degree, but the academic committee snootly refused.  That’s OK – I let the Tingler loose in Room 1104 at Kiely Hall.