martedì 21 febbraio 2017

“Ella Watson” by Gordon Parks, 1942

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was an accomplished photographer, filmmaker, memoirist and breaker of color barriers. Before he was famous, however; before he was Gordon Parks, he had a one-year fellowship as a photographer at the Farm Security Administration. There, under the tutelage of Roy Stryker, he honed his skills.

In 1942, on arriving in Washington to work for the F.S.A., Mr. Parks discovered how deeply segregated and bigotry the nation’s capital was. In a single day, he was refused service at restaurants, barred from a theater and dismissed by a department store clerk. His mentor, Mr. Stryker, encouraged him not to give up. “Talk to other black people who have spent their lives here,” Mr. Stryker said, “They might help give you some direction. Only then should the process of shooting begin”

Taking Stryker’s advice, one of his first opportunities to put his determination into practice came when he talked to a woman who made her living cleaning offices in a government building. Her name was Ella Watson, and her hard work paid her a grand salary of $1080 per year. Parks was struck by the fact that one of the offices she cleaned was that of a white woman who had started work at the same time and with very similar qualifications. She recounted even how she was raising three grandchildren and an adopted daughter with her meagre salary.

Parks remembered: “She had struggled alone after her mother had died and her father had been killed by a lynch mob. She had gone through high school, married and become pregnant. Her husband was accidentally shot to death two days before their daughter was born. By the time the daughter was eighteen, she (the daughter) had given birth to two illegitimate children, dying two weeks after the second child’s birth. What’s more, the first child had been striken with paralysis a year before its mother died.

Gordon Parks considered his portrait of Ella Watson as the very first of his professional career. He recalls that when his boss at the FSA first saw it, he “told me I’d gotten the right idea but was going to get all the FSA photographers fired, that my image of Ella was ‘an indictment of America.’ I thought the image had been killed but one day there it was, on the front page of The Washington Post”  becoming one of the iconic images of all time.

giovedì 2 febbraio 2017

War is not the answer:The story behind Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”

There was plenty going on in 1970s America, and Marvin Gaye’s soulful “What’s Going On” tapped right into it.  Affected by letters that his brother Frankie used to send him from Vietnam, Gaye wrote the lines, “Brother, brother, brother/ There’s far too many of you dying.” The title track of his 1971 concept album offered its own prescription, proclaiming, “War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate.” Motown label didn’t want to release initially Gaye’s album, which addressed a variety of issues and societal troubles such as Vietnam war, drugs, the decline of social situation in America, economy  and the environment, all over a free-flowing musical backdrop that drew on jazz, pop and classical forms. The singer responded that he would not record anything else for the Motown label unless it let it go and he referred to the album as a “gift from God,” and the album’s spiritual dimension found overt expression in his liner notes: “We’ve got to find the Lord. Allow him to influence us. I mean, what other weapons have we to fight the forces of hatred and evil?” With his inimitable voice, he provided nuanced perspective that immediately resonated with audiences – and has so for generations.

In the Spring of 1971, Marvin Gaye's What's Going On disc was a hit becoming among Motown's fastest-selling single releases, hitting Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sadly, on April 1st 1984 the man who sang, “Father, father, we don’t need to escalate,” was fatally shot and killed by his own father due to a conflict with his father dating back to childhood. The wounds were fatal and he was pronounced dead on arrival at the California Hospital Medical Center. Gaye's death inspired several musical tributes over the years including recollections of the incidents leading to his death.

"What's Going On"

Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today - Ya

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
What's going on
Ya, what's going on
Ah, what's going on

In the mean time
Right on, baby
Right on
Right on

Mother, mother, everybody thinks we're wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply because our hair is long
Oh, you know we've got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
What's going on
Ya, what's going on
Tell me what's going on
I'll tell you what's going on - Uh
Right on baby
Right on baby