Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Jason Johnson on Stan Lee's Revolutionary Legacy

"More than any other golden age comic creator, Lee’s characters put blackness and the black experience at the forefront."

Over at The Root, Jason Johnson has a heartfelt and insightful appreciation of comic book writer, editor, and publisher Stan Lee, who died this past Monday at the age of 95. In his appreciation, Johnson explores how Lee, the creator of, among numerous other superheroes, Black Panther, "taught a generation of black nerds about race, art and activism." Following, with added images and links, is an excerpt.


Over the next 24 hours you’ll hear how Stan Lee is credited with creating Daredevil, Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, the Wasp, the Hulk, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and, of course, Black Panther. What you won’t hear as much is how he was screaming from the rafters about racism and discrimination while providing a curriculum for black kids like myself when public schools and all other forms of pop culture summarily shut us out.

Stan Lee didn’t just develop the modern superhero, he brought activist heroes and storylines to the mainstream when most other white publishers let alone newspapers were still playing footsie with Nazis, terrorists and bigots.

It is hard to overstate how important Lee is to black kids growing up in the 1980s and ’90s ,back when comic books were considered a “white” thing. I have literally teared up a few times while writing and thinking about how much joy he brought to youngsters like me, and how much his passion and excitement for comic books helped validate this hobby and the culture that goes with the genre. More than any other golden age comic creator, Lee’s characters put blackness and the black experience at the forefront.

. . . Lee’s creations seamlessly integrated “blackness” into comics in a way that was revolutionary and organic all at the same time.

Peter Parker was a poor, white kid who was mentored by his black editor at the Daily Bugle newspaper, Robbie Robertson. Captain America’s best friend was the Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie in the movies [right and below]) who wore technologically advanced wings built by Black Panther (in the comics). Black Panther was the king of a super technologically advanced, never-conquered, African nation called Wakanda that introduced me to afro-futurism before I even knew what afro-futurism was. Stan Lee created all of those black characters, from kings to sidekicks; from father figures to managers.

It wasn’t until later in life, when I started studying and teaching about comics instead of just reading them, that I learned that none of this was a fluke. Stan Lee was an activist artist, a Jewish guy born to Romanian immigrant parents in New York who hated bigotry. He was explicit about it in his Stan’s Soapbox editorials that ran across all Marvel Comics. He called bigots “Low IQ Yo-Yos,” he said that anybody who generalized about blacks, women, Italians or whoever hadn’t truly evolved as a person.

He was doing this in comic pages when mainstream newspaper editorials were still deciding if black folks should be able to live where they wanted. When Marvel Comics were afraid that the Black Panther character would be associated with the Black Panther political movement, Stan Lee pushed for T’Challa to keep his name (at one point they wanted to call him Coal Tiger). All of this at a time when even having a black person in a comic was still considered controversial.

. . . Stan Lee [showed me] that a love of art and politics didn’t have to exist in separate universes; that blackness was as heroic as anything else; and that when you have power – even just the power to draw a few characters on a page – you have a responsibility to make those characters count for something.

Lee would end most of his personal appearances and cameos with “Excelsior” — the Latin phrase that translates roughly as “higher.”

Thanks for all your help, Stan Lee. I hope you’re out there somewhere exploring the cosmos, swinging from the ceilings, knowing that you made the world a better place.

To read Jason Johnson's appreciation of Stan Lee in its entirety, click here.

Above: Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa/Black Panther in Ryan Coogler's film Black Panther (2018).

Related Off-site Links:
Stan Lee, Marvel Comics' Real-Life Superhero, Dies at 95 – Mike Barnes (The Hollywood Reporter, November 12, 2018).
With Great Power Comes Great Uncertainty: Marvel’s Slowly Evolving Politics – Todd VanDerWerff (Vox, February 26, 2018).
The Top 10 Black Panther Comics – Johnnie Martinez II (Odyssey, February 17, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Important Cultural Moment That Is Black Panther
Celebrating Black Panther – Then and Now
"Avengers Assemble!"
Season of the (Scarlet) Witch
One Divine Hammer
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
The New Superman: Not Necessarily Gay, But Definitely Queer

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Quote of the Day

The youngest Americans who arguably defended their nation from a real threat to its shores are in their nineties, and soon there won’t be any of them left. Every single person who has served in the U.S. military since the end of the Second World War has protected nothing other than the agendas of global hegemony, resource control and war profiteering. They have not been fighting and dying for freedom and democracy, they have been fighting and dying for imperialism, Raytheon profit margins, and crude oil.

Caitlin Johnstone
Excerpted from "The Best Way to Honor War Veterans
Is to Stop Creating Them
American Herald Tribune
November 11, 2018

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The War Racket
Resisting the Hand of the Empire
Quote of the Day – March 20, 2018
Making the Connections
Saying "No" to Endless U.S. Wars
In the Wake of the Paris Attacks, Saying "No" to War, Racism and Islamophobia
The Tenth Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq
A Letter to "Dear Abby" re. Responding to 9/11
Quote of the Day – November 10, 2015
On Armistice Day, Remembering Edward Brittain and Geoffrey Thurlow
All On a Beautiful Morning

Image: U.S., UK and Georgian troops in "Noble Partner" war exercises – May 2016. (Photographer unknown)

Photo of the Day

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Finn's View of November's "Deepening Cold"
Winter's Return
Photo of the Day – November 29, 2017

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Acts of Love . . . Carl's and Mine

You may recall that for my birthday last month I shared the late, great Carl Anderson's song "Love Is," the closing track from his 1988 album An Act of Love.

In doing so I noted that I've been collecting the recordings of Carl Anderson since April of this year, which is when I saw NBC's Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, a staged concert performance of the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

In this concert Brandon Victor Dixon played Judas Iscariot, a role that I think most would agree remains owned by Carl Anderson – even now, 14 years after his death from leukemia in 2004. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Carl powerfully and heartbreakingly immortalized a very nuanced, very human portrayal of Judas in numerous Broadway productions of Jesus Christ Superstar over many years (left) and in the 1973 film version of the rock opera (below).

I first saw the 1973 film adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar some time around 1980 (the same time that Carl was launching his solo music career). Both musically and visually the movie left a lasting impression. Soon after, the film's soundtrack album became a fixture of my teenage years, though how exactly this came about I can't recall. It may even have been me who was responsible! Yet even before that time I was well familiar with "Superstar," perhaps the album's most controversial track. Sung by Carl, it was often played on Australian radio in the early-mid 1970s. I thus heard Carl's voice at a very impressionable age. Little wonder, then, that I continue to find it so compelling. Indeed, vocally and lyrically, Carl's music embodies the qualities that I've come to understand and appreciate about myself as an adult (queer) man: passion, sensuality, and (particularly in the case of "Superstar") the willingness to question the seemingly unquestionable.

An accomplished song stylist

NBC's April broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert brought to mind Carl's definitive portrayal of Judas, something I'd actually already highlighted here at The Wild Reed. This in turn compelled me to look deeper into the life and career of Carl Anderson.

I soon discovered that for over three decades after his meteoric rise to fame with Jesus Christ Superstar, Carl was an accomplished and respected song stylist within a range of genres – jazz, soul, pop, and R&B. He released nine albums between 1981 and 1996. In addition, Carl made memorable duets with other artists and provided solo guest vocals on a number of songs by others. Artists he worked with included Weather Report, Nancy Wilson, The Rippingtons, Michael Paulo, Maynard Ferguson, Brenda Russell, and Linda Eder.

Above: Carl Anderson and Gloria Loring performing their hit single "Friends and Lovers" at a concert in 1986. (To view clips of this and other live performances of Carl, click here.)

Yet for reasons that are frustratingly elusive, many of Carl's best recordings remain unknown to the general public. His most popular song is his duet with singer-actress Gloria Loring, "Friends and Lovers" (above), which reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1986.

I actually have a dream of curating a box set of Carl's recordings, something similar to what was recently done for singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry (left). I've even began compiling the track list and visualizing the overall layout of this project, including the images of Carl that I envision this box set featuring. I think of it as my "act of love" for Carl and his memory and musical legacy.

Falling All Over Again

I share all of this as a way to introduce the song by Carl Anderson that I'm sharing for "music night" this evening at The Wild Reed. It's "Falling All Over Again," the lead single from An Act of Love, the one-off album that Carl recorded with Polydor Records on the PolyGram label in 1988.

The fact that Carl only recorded one album with this now defunct label may account for it being the only one of his albums unavailable on CD.

I recently purchased the album on LP format . . . with a couple of bonus features. Specifically, the album came with a large color photo of Carl (left) and a media release from PolyGram clearly designed to promote both Carl and his new album.

As far as I know, this media release has never been published online. So my sharing of it here at The Wild Reed (along with some added images and links) is a first for my blog.

You can read PolyGram's media release for Carl Anderson's An Act of Love after the audio of the album's lead single, "Falling All Over Again."

Be sure to enjoy both!

I'm falling all over again
Back into your arms I descend
Just like it was all brand new
I'm falling in love with you

Look at how far we've come
Our love is forever young
Remember when we first met
I'll never forget just how good it feels to be

Falling all over
Falling all over again
Falling in love with my very best friend
Now and forever this love will never end
I'm falling all over again

We're falling all over again
Watching the world as it spins
Taking us through our lives
Holding the hands of time

Look at how far we've come
And our love is forever young
Remember when we first met
I'll never forget just how good it feels to be

Falling all over
Falling all over again
Falling in love with my very best friend
Now and forever this love will never end
Falling again . . . and again
Falling in love again

Falling in love again
I don't need no . . .
I don't need nobody else
Ooh, Just you
Just you
Do you remember
When you and me held hands and walked
Under the moon and under the stars
And how we made love

Ooh, just you and me
This time, this time
This time it's gonna get better
'Cause we're falling in love
Falling all over again and again and again

You and me
All I want and all I need
Is for you to hold me
Tell me that you need me
And I will comfort you
Comfort you when you want me to


It all began as an act of love.

In a distant past a Lynchburg, Virginia high school choir director singled out a teenaged Carl Anderson and discovered the beauty and power of his vocal instrument. After putting a first band together after graduation just to pay the rent, Anderson's singing – and later, acting – became his career: he was the electrifying Broadway and film Judas of Jesus Christ Superstar; assorted street toughs in Starsky and Hutch, The Rockford Files, et al episodes; the love interest in Hotel . . . Emmy Award winner, Grammy, NAACP Image Award and Hollywood Globe nominee; the unexpected singing star of Days of Our Lives; a top-selling artist on both U.S. and U.K. charts; and respected as one of the premiere vocal talents of our time. His versatile voice has already graced four solo albums and made appearances on work by Stevie Wonder, Weather Report, Nancy Wilson, and Maynard Ferguson.

Yet until now, Anderson has never made the album that defined his talents – or anything that could confidently say aired some emotional truths. Perhaps nothing in the past few years has truly been throughout an act of love.

"Truth makes the best kind of music, and this is the first time I've done the right kind of record for me," the singer says of his Polydor/PolyGram debut album. "These songs are a monument to my relationship with my wife – the joys, the sorrows, the agony, and the ecstasy. I have seen my marriage fall apart and luckily, I have been able to pick up the pieces again. Doing this album has allowed me to sing about those things."

Above: Carl and his wife Kathleen (Kay) McGhee in 1979. This lovely photo was taken by Carl and Kay's Los Angeles neighbor at the time, Alexis Kasperavičius.

Above: Carl and his son Khalil McGhee-Anderson in the mid-1990s.

Al McKay (formerly of Earth, Wind & Fire), La La, Terry Marshall, and the singer share producer credits; while the sound is goose-bumpy clean, their efforts have resulted in a sensitive work reminiscent of Marvin Gaye's emotional throwdowns – only this time the family has their say. Anderson and his son Khalil exchange sentiments on "More Than You'll Ever Know"; his wife Kay shares vows on "Love Is (The Love Song)," the album's final statement. Anderson addresses doubt and hurt with the majestic "Stop Along the Way," while the upbeat "Baby, You Just Don't Know" and "Falling All Over Again" (the LP's first single) speak of love's renewal. Anderson says, "I'm asking a few questions here: 'Are you willing to look a little deeper? Are you ready for love more than once – and maybe with the same person?' The energy here comes from the message, not just from the beat."

An Act of Love is also stylistically varied, stemming from Anderson's well-rounded musical training. Perhaps best known as a ballad singer – after all, Quincy Jones called him "the best male ballad singer alive" – the Virginia native sang opera, show tunes, and spirituals in school, then first played live in a Washington, D.C. area rock band. He fancied himself a jazz singer, and the band made a decent living covering Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago while throwing in a few originals. "We all lived together on a farm out in the country, he recalls, "doing gigs whenever the rent was due."

Fate stepped in when a friend who worked in a local record store gave Anderson a copy of the then-popular album Jesus Christ Superstar. "It didn't mean a thing to me because The Who had already done rock opera." When he finally listened to it, Anderson saw a vision of himself on Broadway playing the part of Judas. "I'm not exaggerating, it was like yesterday," he says. The band put together a 45-minute medley from the album, performing it at a club in Georgetown. They were invited by a local minister to repeat the set in his church on Palm Sunday, which created a controversy covered by the national media. Television reports on the Today show brought Anderson to the attention of the casting people from the Broadway production, and his dream came true. Anderson was Judas in New York, on the road, and on screen for the next three-and-a-half years.

Above and below: Carl Anderson as Judas in Norman Jewison’s 1973 film version of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s “rock opera,” Jesus Christ Superstar.

Above and below: Carl Anderson performing "Superstar" from Jesus Christ Superstar on a Spanish TV variety show in 1974. (To see the entire video, click here.)

Following that, he won an Emmy for his performance in the PBS production Onstage L.A., and then Anderson launched an acting career. Standard TV-cop fare and soap opera appearances paid the bills and, except for a minor role in his friend Stevie Wonder's epic Songs In the Key of Life, Anderson put singing on the back burner for nearly seven years.

During an appearance in the L.A. stage production Zen Boogie, Anderson decided it was time to let his voice be heard again."It was from the dialogue of acting that I learned the importance of a lyric," he notes. Anderson signed with Epic Records in 1981, recording four albums for the label while continuing to act in Days of Our Lives and Hotel. One song, "Buttercup" (written by Stevie Wonder), became a No. 1 U.K. dance hit in 1985 [left].

In 1986, Anderson performed "Friends and Lovers" on Days of Our Lives with actress Gloria Loring. Requests for the record put it on the charts, and by the fall the duo had one of the biggest songs of the year. (It reached No. 2 and stayed there for two weeks.) The LP which resulted was a patchwork effort, however, and Anderson left Epic for PolyGram.

"I've had many different experiences, I've sung many songs and felt many things. That's all part of me now, it has all gone into the record. I'm grateful to have had this opportunity with the people and the music I love most."

– PolyGram Media Release
June 1988


So what happened to Carl and his career after his one-off album with Polydor/PolyGram?

Well, sadly (and I purposely use this word given all the inspiring and hope-filled things Carl is quoted as saying in the press release) his marriage to Kay ended shortly after the release of An Act of Love. In 1992 he married Veronica Porsche, the former wife of Muhammad Ali.

From 1990 to 1996 Carl recorded three albums with GRP Records, a jazz label founded in 1978 by Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen. All three albums – Pieces Of a Heart (1990), Fantasy Hotel (1992), and Heavy Weather/Sunlight Again (1994) – are exceptional recordings and readily available to purchase online.

In 1996, Carl released a live concert album, Why We Are Here!, under the Abu Khalil label, Carl's own production company named after his son. The album was recorded at the Agape International Spiritual Center, of which Carl was a member.

Shortly after Carl's death in 2004, the center released a collection of live recordings of Carl's performances at Agape. According to the album's liner notes, they were songs "especially dear to Carl's heart" and include "You'll Never Walk Alone," Rolling River God," "You Anointed Me," "Inner Visions," "I Am the Rock," and "I'm Ready to Listen." The album itself was entitled Carl Anderson: Superstar – The Love of Song, the Love of Music. I was fortunate enough to secure a copy of this album on CD format before it recently disappeared from the music section of Agape's store website. (It appears to be archived, however, here. If you're interested in purchasing it, I suggest you call the Agape Store at 310- 348-1266. That's how I ordered it.)

I'll close by sharing the following excerpt from Karyl Lynn Burns' description of Carl Anderson's memorial service at the Agape Spiritual Center on February 28, 2004.

One of the things I was so touched by was how often many people said that Carl had "a good death," that his death was like his life, and that he had great dignity in his passing; that he was compassionate and concerned for others even until the end. The pastor said, "We know that birth is not the beginning and death is not the end." I believe that, too.

Yes, right to the end, Carl Anderson remained open to embodying acts of love. It wasn't just his voice that was beautiful and powerful; so too was his soul. The two, of course, merged; his music was, after all, incredibly soulful. As such, it inspires me in many ways, including to manifest and embody soulful acts of love on every step of my journey, at every stage of my life. Thank you, Carl!

For more of Carl Anderson at The Wild Reed, see:
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)
Carl Anderson
Carl Anderson: "One of the Most Enjoyable Male Vocalists of His Era"
With Love Inside

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Andrew Harvey on Radical, Divine Passion in Action
Move Us, Loving God
Jesus: Our Guide in Mystical Love in Action
Prayer of the Week – April 26, 2010
The Choice (and Risk) That Is Love
Love as "Quest and Daring and Growth"

Friday, November 09, 2018

Finn's View of November's "Deepening Cold"

True, it's not actually winter yet . . . but it sure does look and feel like it today here in Minnesota.

Noted Star Tribune meteorologist Paul Douglas earlier today:

November and December are the darkest months; deepening cold accompanied by unusually gray and cloudy days. A double-shot of gloom for most. Ironically, January tends to be colder, but sunnier, as dry Canadian air finally sweeps away the crud.

Last night's clipper left behind a residue of snow and ice – leave extra time for the morning commute. This early cold wave lingers into early next week, with temperatures 15-20F colder than average.

Yeah, Finn's face says it all.

Related Off-site Links:
Light Snow Showers at Times, Windy and Cold; Chilly Weekend – Ron Trenda (Minnesota Public Radio News, November 9, 2018).
November: Historically Dark, Cold and Slippery – Paul Douglas (Star Tribune, November 8, 2018).

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

For more images of Finn, see:
Out and About – Summer 2018

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Winter's Return
First Snowfall