Janis: Little Girl Blue @ The Ross

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I remember hearing Janis Joplin for the first time, and I did not know what to make of this voice that sounded like desperation screeching across a chalkboard. When I saw publicity stills of her, I wondered why she appeared so scraggly. Humph. Unkempt. Even more bizarre, she looked young but sounded old … and … loud! Her smile, however, invited me in to know some thing about her.

Filmmaker Amy J. Berg, summons us into the world of Janis Joplin, and Berg has outdone herself in the research of her subject. Her documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue is an awe-inspiring journey into the delicate but hardwearing but complicated heart and soul of Janis Joplin, a compelling force of nature on the landscape of rock n’ roll.

Narrated by singer/songwriter Cat Power, Janis chronicles the singer’s rise to power with commentary from her colleagues and friends. There’s Big Brother and the Holding Company—the band that featured her in the 1960s; Clive Davis, Dick Cavett, Melissa Etheridge, Paul Albin, and John Cooke. The one thing they all agree on: Janis Joplin pierced the veil of the male-dominated world of rock and roll but at a great cost.

Some of us are all too familiar with Joplin’s story: the little girl blue born into a conservative family from Texas who came of age as a singer during the psychedelic times of the 60s in San Francisco, and who died from a heroin overdose at the age of 27.

Berg’s storytelling is so raw so visceral that Joplin’s love for life, and her indomitable spirit that compelled her to take it all in feels like a science fiction movie in 3d. Just as did Joplin through her music, Berg’s documentary probes the singer’s heart, and you will hear it beat when old photographs of her family appear; when her letters to her family are read; when her siblings Laura and Michael Joplin speak; and when her voice sears through the archival footage of her interviews and concerts; The tremors are all too real. Janis: Little Girl Blue is soulful in its intimacy; touching in the details rendered by those who knew her; and, brilliant in its intensity.

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Janis: Little Girl Blue plays through January 28 at The Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Youth, starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel also plays through January 28 at the Ross.

 

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Ball of Confusion ~ An Interview

Richard Street, top right

Richard Street, top right

It is something to think about, really: Black women who had to assume via death the custody of legacies created by Black men who changed the course of history. We know them, and we know them well: Myrlie Evers, the late Coretta Scott King, and the late Betty Shabazz are the most beloved of these custodians. The assassin’s bullet made them young widows at a time when the nation groaned under trauma and chaos.

Cindy Street has joined this chorus of women as she assumes stewardship of the life story of her late husband Richard Street, the soulful lead singer of the most admired group in the history of music, The Temptations. Of course, Richard Street’s legacy does not reach the scale of Evers, King, and Malcolm X–those icons of the civil rights and Black Power movements; however, these venerated widows, no doubt, found some solace in Rhythm and Blues, affectionately known as R&B, the music that bolstered these movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Richard Street is part of that history.

Yes, the maintenance of legacies is something to think about, and Cindy Street provides some insight into what that must be like. In my interview with her, Ms. Street discusses her life with Richard and the meaning of his legacy to the music industry and, specifically, the significance of Richard moving from the microphone to dance on the white page to tell his story in his autobiography Ball of Confusion: My Life as a Temptin’ Temptation.

I do believe it was my man Solomon (not Burke) who said, “Of making many books there is no end.” After all, Smokey did do his book. Mary Wells and Wilson did theirs. And so did Otis (not Redding). So any ’mo of Motown might be considered entirely too much or too little “Richard” penmanship for any soul to stand. But as Marvin once upon a time so melodiously put it, “if the Spirit moves you?”
~ Richard Street

TDR: Ms. Street, audiences are all too familiar with the history Motown and The Temptations, the group Richard joined in 1971. You are the person who shared the last phase of his life. Tell us who you are, the woman who lived with the man.

CS: I am from the Philippines. I was educated there, and came to the United States in search of something different. I am an ambitious and motivated person. I aspire for success.

TDR: What did you do when you came to the United States?

CS: I am a nurse—a very caring and compassionate person. I love caring for people, and that is my passion. But what really saddened me was that with all of my skill as a nurse, I could not help Richard get well.

TDR: What happened to Richard?

CS: He got sick in 2000; he was in a lot of pain. I managed his health as best I could; I tried to make him comfortable … make him feel better.

TDR: How did you meet Richard?

CS: I met him in 1996 the year he left The Temptations in the later stage of his life. He was in his 50s. He was 8 years older than me. He was very cordial … a humble and grounded person. He had all the material things he could want being a successful singer but there was something missing, and that was a family life. He really missed that. Richard loved Las Vegas; he had always wanted to live in Vegas. So we got married at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. The wedding was like a concert.

Richard with Cindy Street and Son

Richard with Cindy Street and Son

TDR: So you marry an entertainer who belonged to a celebrated group whose history reaches long into Hitsville, U.S.A. better known as Motown. Who was Richard Street, the person?

CS: I learned a lot about Richard when I got to know him … oh, he was so handsome! He really was a homebody; he loved to cook. He treasured his privacy and he had a strong personality; he was very opinionated but very cordial … very humble … very grounded ….. Being around him I saw a confident survivor. He had a lot of respect for himself. What a professional he was. He stood out from the rest by the way he carried himself.

TDR: In his autobiography Ball of Confusion, Richard uses a variety of Biblical quotes to explain some of his circumstances growing up and while a member of The Temptations. Was he that way at home?

CS: Richard always had trust and confidence in God; he loved to quote the bible. He prayed a lot. He thanked God every day for what we had and for what we do. Every Sunday he would watch Christian television. He loved Gospel music. He would tell me, “I prayed for a woman like you; I prayed for a woman to understand me.” We enjoyed church; and we watched the Christian television and we talked about the message we heard for that day. I am a Catholic, and we enjoyed a very good spiritual connection.

TDR: How did he develop such a strong spiritual life?

CS: God touched his life. The life as a Temptation was glamorous but that was materialistic part of that life. He felt God was calling him to change and to be who he was and to get closer to him. Richard really wanted to be a responsible person as a performer and as a father.

TDR: What was your impression of Motown?

CS: I loved them! I met Berry Gordy. When my husband passed away they gave a tribute to my husband. They were all sweet; very nice. They felt like family. When we first got together, he took me to Detroit and he took me to the house, the playground the park, the diner …

“Whether you lived down in the valley or upon a hill, you knew ‘my girl’ lived in a ‘psychedelic shack.’ And just because ‘beauty’s only skin deep,’ you could care less if hers or your ‘papa was a rollin’ stone.’ Music defined the vocabulary of a Pepsi generation, and Motown had replaced Webster as the country’s lexicographer and poet laureate.”
~ Richard Street

TDR: How did you feel about the music he made?

CS: It was amazing music! I enjoyed it and I was very proud of it. I danced to it. I was a young teenager singing their Temptations songs. The music lingers on and on. Everybody knows it. For me, as a regular person, their music is very strong and powerful. That group gave meaning to the lives of people especially the baby boomers. There always is a connection somewhere in their music.

Our fans treated us like modern-day Greek gods. I mean Mt. Olympus didn’t have anything on Detroit’s Motown.
~ Richard Street

TDR: Did Richard ever give you his opinions about the popular music being made today?

CS: Well, he always said when he heard Hip Hop there is no respect in that music; there is no meaning. Our music, he would say, sent love and a lot of meaning to it. He believed his music helped people … poor and rich. It could touch people everywhere. He was very proud of that fact and proud to be a part of it.

TDR: What is the most memorable story he told you about his life?

CS: The story about how they all started in the little house in Hitsville. I asked, “how could all of these people fit into this little house?” He said it was all about quality control.

TDR: What are some of the conversations he would have with you about being a member of The Temptations?

Richard Street far right

Richard Street far right

CS: Yes, he did talk about his life with The Temptations. He enjoyed the group; it was like a family because they were all together. But there was another side of the story: being a member was a job for him to do and it made it possible for him to have everything materially he wanted–the fame, the fortune … He met everyone from all walks of life such as the president, Prince Charles. But the life of The Temptations … there were sacrifices ….

But my story is not told to impress or depress. It’s not about a biblical Job and what it is to suffer. It’s simply about a job (as in employment) of biblical proportions. If you were a young adult in the mid 1960s or ’70s, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Being a Temptation was “heavenly.”
~ Richard Street

TDR: Did Richard ever talk to you about his former wives or girlfriends?

CS: He did not want to talk about his other women. He would tell me that I was his wife and that his life was with me now in the present. They are in the past, and his present was happy with me. It would upset him if I asked about them so I learned my lesson. What mattered to Richard was his peace of mind.

“The story I’m here to tell is not about feeding the hunger for gossip. Neither is it meant to scratch the itching ear of that inquiring mind that wants to know the dirty lowdown some fifty years after the fact. If you are looking for titillation, keep on truckin’, baby. There’s no tit for tat to suck on here.”
~ Richard Street

TDR: Did you and Richard have children together?

CS: We decided not to have children because we were in our prime. We both came into the marriage with children so we had a ball on all holidays. He loved the family life—those who would love and respect him for whom he was and accept him as a regular person. When he got sick all of my children were with him.

TDR: He has 4 children but he does not mention them in the book …

CS: Whatever is in the book is what he wanted the public to know. He interacted with his children. We bought a house in Vegas; they were in Detroit, Michigan.

TDR: Richard writes his life story but passes on before it is published. Why was writing his autobiography Ball of Confusion: My Life As a Temptin’ Temptation so important to him? …

CS: It was important to him to tell his story. He said to me, “Baby, I am the only one alive who can tell the story. I want to have a closure. I need closure.” I promised him … when he passed away, I said “Papa, I promise you that book will be out.” That’s what I told him. The day after he died I called the owner of the publishing house and that’s it … it happened. The book is out.

Unfortunately, a lot of the books that have been written about the Motown era stifle the reader’s spiritual growth. Yes, there were temptations in the spiritual sense of the Word. But there were also the triumphs in the same spiritual sense that have yet to be heard.
~ Richard Street

TDR: What are you memories when you think of Richard Street?

CS: When I go got the cemetery to visit my husband I know his music lingers on through the world and to everybody. There is always THAT memory, and it is the greatest of all.

Richard Street 1942-2013 Rest in Peach

Richard Street
1942-2013
Rest in Peace

On February 27, 2013, the singer died of respiratory failure caused by emphysema after performing 45 shows in the United Kingdom. He collaborated with Gary Flanigan, on his autobiography but he would not live to see it published. Death held sway until Cindy made this promise to her husband: “I will always take care of you. I will make sure your book will be published because that is your dream.” In 2014, Ball of Confusion: My Life As a Temptin’ Temptation (with Gary Flanigan), was published by Tate publishers. Street summarized his dance on the white page as, “a passion play of biblical proportions for all who felt the spirit of music made flesh through the rhythm and the blues of the body, mind, and soul.”

Chi-Raq @ The Ross

Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata

Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata

Peace & Love … Afros & Rap … Feuds & Guns …
Young men & women
sportin’ colors
of purple and orange …
holding g r r r r u d g e s

Black mothers
shedding tears
holding posters
of the heads
of their slain
daughters & sons;

the spines of grown men
s h a t t e r e d from a bullet …
now ridin’ in wheelchairs on the concrete …

Chi-Raq

an insurance salesman
comin’ ‘round the ‘hood
confident of that signature on another policy
to cover the body of another baby boy … baby girl

What can the church give?
One thing is for sure: The undertaker
will have its due …

Put da Guns Down!
There’s blood flowin’
in the streets
in Chi-Raq

No Peace? No Piece!

Samuel L. Jackson as Dolmedes

Samuel L. Jackson as Dolmedes

Chi-Raq, the much-anticipated film by acclaimed director, Spike Lee, is powerful chaotic suspenseful raunchy bawdy and full of cussin’ n braggin’ — concern … all spoken in verse. Let me pause to give some background of the term. According to the Urban Dictionary, “Chiraq is a nickname given to America’s third largest city, Chicago . . . because there are more murders and violence that occur in Chicago than the war in Iraq.”

Chi-Raq …

The film is Lee’s adaption of the ancient Greek comedy, Lysistrata, written by Aristophenes. In that play, Lysistrata convinces the women of Greece to withhold sex until peace is negotiated between Athens and the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta.

In Chi-Raq, Lee sets the action in the city of Chicago’s southside, specifically in the neighborhood called Englewood. There, Lee dramatizes the everywhere presence of guns: in the club, on the street, in the house, in the bedroom, and the people who use them without caution …

Chi-Raq

Lysistrata (Parris) outlining her plan for No Peace? No Piece!

Lysistrata (Parris) outlining her plan for No Peace? No Piece!

Once a girl is hit by a bullet from a drive-by, Lysistrata, played with sass by Teyonah Parris, calls for the women in the community to shut down of sexual activity until peace is restored to the neighborhood. Nick Cannon plays Lysistrata’s boyfriend Chi-Raq, also known as Demetrius, a gun-totin’ but talented rapper who has to face his own truth and face the consequences. You will appreciate the performances by Wesley Snipes, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, and Jennifer Hudson as they speak in verse to tell the story of lives in Chi-Raq.

Chi-Raq is ambitious and flawed, but Spike Lee shines when he demonstrates that gun violence is inherited by each generation to the next.

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Chi-Raq plays through January 21st at The Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also opening at The Ross is The Wonders, Alice Rohrwacher’s story of beekeepers living in isolation in the Tuscan countryside.

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