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Photo: YouTube
The enthusiasm of YouTube phenomenon Twinsisthenewtrend (brothers Tim and Fred Williams) pushed an old Phil Collins song back to the top of the charts.

I’ve been getting a kick out of YouTube videos showing young people listening to pop music that was big decades ago. If you haven’t heard of this trend, read Luke Holland’s overview at the Guardian.

“Earlier this month a wonderful thing – remember those? – happened. Twin brothers Tim and Fred Williams, who post YouTube vids under the name Twinsisthenewtrend, shared a clip that went viral. In it, the affably enthusiastic 21-year-olds sit down to listen to Phil Collins’s moody, 1981 reverb anthem In the Air Tonight.

“And, well, that’s it. The clip is just them, doing that. But their reactions made it one of the most talked-about videos of the year, clocking up over six million views in three weeks.

Because there’s a twist: the twins had never heard this song before. Their minds are suitably, and adorably, blown.

“ ‘I ain’t never seen nobody drop a beat three minutes in a song!’ they hoot, delighted, after Phil clatters in with that drum fill – the one we’ve been so familiar with for so long that it’s passed into the graveyard of hoary old cliche. But hearing it through fresh ears – their ears – and watching the twins as they’re floored for the first time reminded people what an amazing musical moment it is. As a direct result of the clip, the song shot to No 2 in the US iTunes charts.

“First-reaction videos have been a thriving, and rather joyous, subsection of social media for years. In 2018, YouTuber Bman shared a video of him experiencing Bohemian Rhapsody cold. Watching the full gamut of human emotions – gentle contemplation, wistful sadness, wide-gobbed amazement – shimmer across his face, as the song lunges from one operatic movement to the next, is nothing short of wonderful.

“ ‘WHERE HAVE I BEEN?!’ he asks at the end, on the verge of tears. Bohemian Rhapsody is such a pillar of music that it’s taken for granted, in the same way gravity is taken for granted. Bman reminds you what a monumental achievement Freddie Mercury managed to pull off, because you’re right there with him, hearing it anew. …

“As viewers, it goes beyond simple nostalgic appreciation of these songs: it’s a way of reliving your own first experiences of them by proxy.

“Most importantly, despite predictably joyless accusations that many of the videos are staged, they represent a level of wholesomeness that is sorely lacking in music appreciation right now. No snark, no whataboutery, absolutely no pretension. Just people loving some great music, possibly reminding you that you – yes, you – still love it, too.” More at the Guardian, here.

If you want another angle, Jody Rosen at the New York Times sees a darker side to the current trend. “The viral popularity of this display of intergenerational sympathy — Black 20-somethings professing love for a white boomer’s pop-rock chestnut — may also tell us something else about the ambient tensions and neuroses that are, you might say, in the air, adrift in the ether of 2020. …

“Race is a crucial component of music-reaction videos. There are many Black YouTubers who specialize in responding to white musicians, and the twins’ most popular clips feature white performers. These videos … suggest that Black and white people inhabit walled-off cultural spheres — a dodgy proposition in the first place — and then perform a symbolic rapprochement, in which a sick beat-drop holds the power to bridge a racial divide.”

OK, I take his point, but I still think these videos are delightful.

In 2018, YouTuber Bman showed himself listening to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for the first time.

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Photo: MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock/
Prima ballerina Misty Copeland (right) and Raven Wilkinson at the Urban World Film Festival in New York City in 2015. Wilkinson has mentored many dancers since retiring from dancing at age 50.

Former ballerina Raven Wilkinson has shared her experiences — and her strength — with dancers of color since ending her own dancing career at age 50. She’s a great example of someone turning even bad experiences into something that sustains others.

Olivia B. Waxman writes at Time magazine, “In the years since she became the first black ballerina to be a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has become a well-known symbol of breaking down barriers in her art. The strides she has made build on the work of one particular dancer — a mentor of Copeland’s, Raven Wilkinson, who broke new ground in similar ways during the 1950s. …

“Wilkinson’s passion for ballet began at an early age and would take her around the nation with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. As the first African American ballerina to dance with a major touring troupe, she performed the coveted solo waltz in Les Sylphides.

“But her story — which is told in the new picture book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III … didn’t always feel like a fairy tale.

“Wilkinson, now 82, risked death and arrest by touring with the company in the South during a period when it was illegal for black and white dancers to share a stage. …

“As a native New Yorker, Wilkinson grew up only seeing the Ku Klux Klan in newsreels at the movie theater. It was through dance that she had her first real-life encounter with the group, in 1957 in Montgomery, Ala, while her company passed through the city on tour. …

“ ‘The KKK were everywhere. There was a convention,” Wilkinson recently recalled to TIME. “The [hotel] manager said, “You can’t dance tonight. Go to your room, stay in your room, lock the door, and don’t come out and don’t let anybody in.” ‘ There, she saw a cross burning outside her window. She says she wouldn’t have been able to get through … tense moments without her fellow dancers in the company. …

“After a brief stint in a convent to reflect on the path she had chosen, she moved to Europe, where it was easier for her to dance professionally. She danced with the Dutch National Ballet in Holland before returning to the States in 1974, where she danced with the New York City Opera until her retirement at age 50. …

“When TIME asked Copeland what has changed since Wilkinson was dancing professionally, she said ‘a lot is still so much the same. … We won’t be told to leave the company because our safety is at risk, but I had a similar experience being told to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit in with the rest of the company. … [Knowing Raven] made me feel really empowered not to let the negativity of racism even to this day affect me and my career. I can be strong and persevere and allow my talent to shine beyond the color of my skin.’ ”

It makes you think about the strength of character and the courage that barrier-breakers embody. The “poor, terrified girl” story melts away into the “young woman of steel” story.

More here.

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Did you hear about the time a mule won the Great American Horse Race? It’s kind of a tortoise and hare story.

At WBUR’s Only a Game, Martin Kessler explains why endurance mattered.

“The year was 1976. … In honor of the bicentennial, trains and airplanes were painted red, white and blue. A fleet of tall ships sailed down the Hudson River.

“And there was a horse race unlike any other.

“It was called the Great American Horse Race, and it would span nearly 100 days and 3,500 miles, starting in New York, heading to Missouri, and then following the Pony Express route to California.

“[Curt] Lewis was hired by the race organizers to document all the greatness and Americaness of the Great American Horse Race. And also the competition.

“The rider who covered the distance fastest would get $25,000 – worth about $100,000 in today’s dollars.

“About 100 riders signed up. Cowboys took a break from rodeos. World War II veterans, finished with their missions on submarines and B-17 bombers, also entered. So did a sheriff — and even an Austrian count. …

“And then there was Virl Norton. He was one of the oldest riders. He didn’t have as big a bank account as most of the others. He didn’t have any fancy horse equipment. Or a big crew to help him set up camp or cook or do laundry.

“But he had a plan.

“While some riders entered Icelandic ponies, quarter horses, and Appaloosas, the consensus was that the horse to ride if you wanted to win was an Arabian. … Virl Norton entered a mule.”

With his 16-year-old son as the only crew, Norton set out across country with his mule Lord Fauntleroy and a backup called Lady Eloise. And left those fast horses in the dust.

Read all about it here.

Photo: Curt Lewis
Virl Norton, winner of the 1976 Great American Horse Race, with mules Lord Fauntleroy and Lady Eloise.

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I had an awfully nice lunch yesterday, and I’d like to tell you about it. It involved two nonprofits — the mostly Caucasian conservation group Trustees of Reservations and the mostly African American community-outreach enterprise called Haley House.

The trustees had a really great idea recently to do meaningful art installations on a couple of their properties and chose one next to the Old Manse in Concord. The Old Manse is most often associated with 19th Century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, but the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson was also a resident and saw the historic events unfold at the North Bridge on April 19, 1775.

Artist Sam Durant wanted to draw attention to the presence of slaves in the early days of Concord and launch a discussion, so he constructed a kind of big-tent meeting house, with a floor made of the kinds of materials that might have been in slave buildings.

The Trustees conferred with him on a series of “lyceums” that might bring races together at the site. They decided that at the first one, they would encourage races to break bread together and talk about food traditions.

From Haley House in Roxbury, they brought in a chef, a beautiful meal, and singer/educator/retired-nurse Fulani Haynes.

I ate a vegan burger, sweet-potato mash, very spicey collard greens and wonderful corn muffins. Also available were salad and chicken.

Haynes sang a bit and talked about the origins of Haley House, how it helps low-income people and ex-offenders and local children, teaching cooking and nutrition and gardening, among other things. She invited attendees to tell food stories from their early years, and several brave spirits stood up.

That participatory aspect of the activities helped to reduce the impression that African Americans were making entertainments for a mostly white audience (art, food, music entertainments).

I loved the whole thing and learned a lot. (For example, Grandpa Emerson had slaves living upstairs, and “the embattled farmers” who “fired the shot heard ’round the world” were able to go marching off because slaves were working the farms. I really didn’t know.)

African American artifacts are on display next door at the Old Manse. The art installation will be up until the end of October 2016.

More here.

Photos: Artist Sam Durant offers the crowd a new lens on history. The chef from Haley House keeps an eye on the African American cuisine. Fulani Haynes demonstrates how a food can become an instrument.

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In spring 2008, during a sometimes distressing primary season, an African American coworker and I decided to try something under the radar at work.

We decided to invite other colleagues of good will to help create a monthly lunch-hour discussion group on Race in America.

At first it was slow going. Some people we invited were suspicious. Would we be seen as troublemakers? Was it “legal”? Would it be just a gripe fest about our workplace?

My friend was supervising our high school interns at the time, and several of those showed up. One or two white employees came. Black colleagues were more wary. On days that no one came, one of us was bound to say to the other, Maybe this isn’t going to work. At which point, the other would say, Let’s give it another month.

Little by little, attendance grew. We kept the focus on topics in the news and participants’ life experiences. There was no agenda. We’d say, Does anyone have a topic they want to discuss today? There were always topics. We agreed to keep what was said inside our basement meeting room. There was zero hierarchy. What everyone brought to the table was openness and a willingness to listen.

We listened. We asked questions. We argued, with respect. We laughed. We worried. We learned. There were so many gradations of opinions, based on individuals’ experiences. There was never unanimity of one race versus another.

One participant said last year the monthly discussions had really opened his eyes and changed some of his views profoundly.

My friend retired a couple years ago and I left in January, but the group is still going strong under new leaders. I really miss it. I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to hear what members have to say about something in the news or something I see in my town. I feel like I hardly know my own views without adding the nuances of what my former colleagues are thinking and feeling.

This past week, I’ve read lots of advice about what people of good will can do about race relations and injustice: join demonstrations and meetings, write government representatives, open their hearts to losses on both sides, listen to young activists, stand on their right not to show an I.D. (Fifth Amendment). Maybe some of those ideas are good.

But I still love the idea of creating a group where people of different races and backgrounds listen to one another’s way of seeing things. Over the eight years, Race in America members have come and gone, but participants routinely say that the group works because of the trust that is built.

For getting started, it worked well that we were two friends — one identifying as African American, one as Caucasian. She needed me, and I needed her. I never felt I should go up to a black colleague I didn’t know and pitch a discussion on race. She was a star at that.

Maybe it’s a hopelessly small thing for combating what we see in the news. But I do think people of different races have too few opportunities to listen to one another about matters that touch the heart.

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Casey Kelly has a story at WBUR’s Only a Game on a sport enabled by the removal of dams on the Penobscot River in Maine.

The recent removal of two dams (and upgrades to others) in Maine’s Penobscot River made available over 1,000 miles of habitat for Atlantic salmon and other fish — and also made the river available to whitewater enthusiasts.

“The dam removal was the culmination of years of restoration efforts by several groups. The Penobscot Nation, for whom the river has been vital for centuries, helped lead that effort.

“ ‘The creator put us here, in the Penobscot River Valley,’ said James Eric Francis, Sr., the director of cultural and historic preservation for the Penobscot Nation. ‘We are surrounded by the sacred river.’

“Last month, paddlers from all over the country gathered for a race celebrating the removal of the dams.” More here, including a video.

Here’s how freeing the river came about. It was a major collaboration by disparate groups committed to identifying and acting on the values they held in common.

Photo: Craig Dilger for The New York Times  
The dismantling of the Veazie Dam is also giving 11 species of fish better access to 1,000 miles of spawning habitat.

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The Upper Midwest has some unusual races. One year in Minnesota, for example, my husband and I went to an outhouse race, and I wrote up the experience for an East Coast community paper.

Today I read in the NY Times about a Wisconsin race. Mitch Smith writes, “In Spain, they run bulls. In Kentucky, thoroughbreds. But here in America’s Dairyland, llamas are the four-legged athletes of choice.

“On Saturday afternoon, the llamas converged on this tiny town in the corn-covered hills of western Wisconsin, as they do each September. A llama named Lightning, a 14-year-old with swift feet and a bit of a temper, claimed the heaping basket of tomatoes and peppers that goes to the speediest camelid.

“To the roughly 1,900 residents of Hammond, the Running of the Llamas is something far more than an annual excuse to watch South American pack animals lope down Davis Street. In the 18 years since a local bar owner first let the llamas loose, the event has become a source of communal pride and identity in a state where it seems every dot on the map has its own quirky festival.

“ ‘It makes our town unique,’ said Ariel Backes, 16, the reigning Miss Hammond. ‘It just shows small towns are the best.’ …

“Some llamas were eager to race, sprinting swiftly behind the handler holding its reins. Others were compliant but unenthusiastic, making their way past the cheering fans, lined up four and five deep on some stretches of sidewalk, at more of a brisk walk than a run. And a few llamas were downright uninterested, forcing their handlers to practically drag them to the finish line.” More here.

Suzanne and Erik’s two-year-old fed a llama this summer. I can’t quite picture that llama wanting to do anything but eat.

Photo: Colin Archdeacon on Publish September 14, 2014.
This llama-racing event is in its 18th year in Hammond, Wisconsin.

 

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The FortPointer passed along another great lead by way of twitter. He recommends a blog called We Love Beantown. (Beantown is a Boston moniker that comes from Boston Baked Beans.)

I really liked the post about people racing their couches in the middle of the city. Blog cofounder Jarret Izzo writes, “I laughed out loud when I first received word of the Great Boston Couch Race, an outdoor obstacle course completed via pedicabs/couches/rickshaws, for the awareness and benefit of House of Tsang sauces. …

“It turns out Tsang puts on quite a show and they deserve a thumbs up for a legitimately fun event. The race’s obstacles were so ridiculous that they circled back on the cool-o-meter, from a DVD hunt reminiscent of Supermarket Sweep to tossing vegetables at a teammate with the help of a wok.

“I felt like I was a contestant on Family Double Dare, if it were filmed on a frozen tundra. Multiple flatscreens displayed twitter feeds and a nearby tent cooked up stir-fry on demand. This is apart from the sauce itself, which I know as a staple for confused guys who want add flavor to meat, but for whom the advanced ways of five spice marinade remain a mystery. …

“The crowd was dominated by high schoolers in formal wear: there was a jazz band competition in the Hynes. … But I can only wonder, who chose to come to Boston in February and spend more time inside at a mall? How bad does it have to be where you came from?

“In the Couch Race, those high schoolers would be my downfall. I raced against two girls in town from Cape Cod — a pianist and a singer. We had a huge lead, entering the final stretch under 100 seconds. But  pedal mishaps necessitated pushing the bike-couch-rickshaw with our feet, a la Fred Flintstone, costing valuable time.” More here.

Reminds me of a couple silly things from years past. The outhouse races in Minnesota. And the time a 20-something John and his Life is good buddies put a couch on a corner of Newbury Street and sold lemonade from it like little kids. (I think there was a charity involved. I hope it got the money.)

Photo: We Love Beantown

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An April NY Times article by Joseph Berger focused on the egalitarian, colorblind brotherhood of pigeon breeders.

“When New Yorkers consider the subculture of people who raise pigeons on rooftops, many are likely to think of Terry Malloy, the longshoreman in the 1954 film ‘On the Waterfront’ played by Marlon Brando. He was a classic rooftop breeder, rough-hewed, working-class and white ethnic to his toes.

“But that image has long needed some alteration because in the dwindling world of rooftop fliers, as they are known, the men are as likely to be working-class blacks or Hispanics. Many were introduced to the hobby by Irish, Italian and other fliers of European descent …

“Ike Jones, an African-American who manages one of the last pigeon supply stores for its Italian-Jewish owner, Joey Scott, said he learned much of the craft when he was about 12. He then became a helper to George Coppola, an Italian rooftop breeder in Bedford-Stuyvesant. …

“A new book, ‘The Global Pigeon,’ by Colin Jerolmack, an assistant professor of sociology at New York University who spent three years hanging out with pigeon fliers, makes the point that pigeon breeding brought Italian-Americans and other ethnic whites ‘into contact with people of a different ethnic and age cohort with whom they were not voluntarily associating before.’ ” More.

For another take on the rarefied world of pigeon lovers, read A Pigeon and a Boy, which I blogged about here. A wonderful book in many ways, I thought the ending bizarre and so can’t give it five stars. But I liked how it wove the world of pigeon raising and message sending into the whole modern history of Israel. (If you should happen to read it, please explain the ending to me.)

Photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Delroy Sampson breeds his own birds.

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My friend Meg is a runner. She runs for the joy of running, and she runs to support worthy causes like research on liver disease. Several times a week, she rises early and runs with friends and a few homeless folks who have found running to be a step toward getting their lives in order.

Meg blogs about running, too. Here she talks about running “with a team of homeless men and women from Downtown Crossing’s Boston Rescue Mission.”

Here she tells how she learned about Back on My Feet after seeing the program’s T-shirts being worn in a race:

“Running, as a means of teaching work and life skills to residents of homeless shelters.  Using their attendance, attitude, dedication to morning runs to gain access to job training, housing assistance, and help paying for and attaining education.  Intriguing, indeed.  Especially since I’d not noticed a single homeless person in that crowd of runners.

“A lifelong runner myself, I could evidence upticks in productivity and personal satisfaction when I was most engaged in running.  Was it possible that what worked for me could work for the city’s most troubled?

“I filled out the online interest form.  A few weeks later, I got an email confirming an evening orientation session, where nearly a dozen gathered to learn about the program. Vic Acosta, Boston Chapter Program Director, filled me with hope, enthusiasm, and energy – from that moment, I knew that Back On My Feet would be my kind of group.

“A few days later, I set that early morning alarm for the first time.

“I met the team – residents and non-residents both – that morning.  We ran a few miles, and I went home to prepare for work, still not knowing which runners were the residents [of the homeless shelter].  Then, I began to really understand the power of Back On My Feet: on those early mornings, we weren’t residents or non-residents, we were teammates.”

Now can I tell you the rest of story as it was told to me?

One day Meg mentioned to one of the homeless guys that she planned to drive up to Lowell with friends for a race. He was interested. He asked if he could come along. He said he was from Lowell and had been estranged from his family for years because of troubles with the law and with substance abuse. He wondered tentatively, hopefully, whether anyone in his family might like to see him now that he had gotten clean.

Meg took him along, and he ran with her group. At the end of the race his family was there. Cheering.

Photo: http://www.backonmyfeet.org/

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Asakiyume writes a blog I enjoy a lot, and this week she had an intriguing post on Jackie Ormes, generally considered the first female African American cartoonist. See examples of work by Ormes at Asakiyume’s blog, here.

According to wikipedia, Ormes (1911 to 1985), “started in journalism as a proofreader for the Pittsburgh Courier, a weekly African American newspaper that came out every Saturday. Her 1937-38 Courier comic strip, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, starring Torchy Brown, was a humorous depiction of a Mississippi teen who found fame and fortune singing and dancing in the Cotton Club.”

The strip waxed and waned as Ormes pursued her many career interests, bur she always returned to Torchy.

“In 1950, the Courier began an eight-page color comics insert, where Ormes re-invented her Torchy character in a new comic strip, Torchy in Heartbeats. This Torchy was a beautiful, independent woman who finds adventure while seeking true love. …  The strip is probably best known for its last episode in 1954, when Torchy and her doctor boyfriend confront racism and environmental pollution. Torchy presented an image of a black woman who, in contrast to the contemporary stereotypical media portrayals, was confident, intelligent, and brave.”

Being a cartoonist seems harder than writing a blog. You not only need to find daily topics that interest you enough to dwell on, but you have to encapsulate them in a piece of art. Asakiyume sometimes illustrates her posts, but art is one thing you won’t find me doing here. (Unless maybe a collage.)

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Today I went to Belmont Against Racism’s 18th annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast and heard broadcast journalist Callie Crossley speak.

As a high school student, Crossley participated in the marches of the striking Memphis garbage workers, whom MLK Jr had come to support at the time of his death in 1968.

King was already turning his attention to the challenges of poverty and unequal opportunity that we have been hearing so much about since the recession. Crossley exhorted the large audience to be active, not just nostalgic, speaking specifically to folks who feel they are not leaders or who just feel weary of struggle.

She said, “Leadership comes when no will say and no one is doing.” And she quoted a line from Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, who visited Boston a while back: “You have no right to be tired when there is still work to be done.”

Later Crossley answered questions, advising one student on getting involved to defeat new measures likely to undercut voting rights.

In response to a question about how she got into journalism, she told a funny story about writing a newspaper at age 8 (like Axel), with all the articles about herself. She laughed that she couldn’t understand why her neighbors didn’t want to pay for it and said that was how she learned that news stories are supposed to be about other people.

Music provided by poet and performer Regie Gibson as well as by Berklee College of Music student Angelina Mbulo was great.

I sat with an Ethiopian family. From time to time we were riveted by the sign language interpreters at a nearby table. It is so like watching theater or dance. Beautiful.

There were activities nationwide today, including service projects like one at Kids4Peace.

Meanwhile in Bellingham, Washington, where Erik’s Aunt Anna reads Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog, the Kulshan chorus was on deck once more to help residents celebrate.

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