The “Last Message” of Malcolm X

On February 14, 1965, Malcolm X spoke at the Ford Auditorium in Detroit, Michigan. It was a keynote address for an awards event sponsored by a group called the Afro-American Broadcasting Company. Sidney Potier, Marian Anderson, Jackie Gleason, Motown Records and a few other business honorees were given awards. So was civil right legend and Detroit resident Rosa Parks.

Malcolm’s speech is often called his “Last Message” because it is the last major public address he ever gave. He was assassinated one week later, on February 21, 1965.

There are so many easy ways to take quotes or excerpts of Malcolm’s speeches and make both powerful and meaningful statements about our past and present. He is highly quotable, yes, but he was also powerfully prescient, sensationalistic, and charismatic. But he was also a human being who, like all of us, changed, learned, grew, and evolved. For those reasons, I prefer listening to his speeches in as full a way as possible. I also find it important to put them into context–into the particular time and place of his own life–in order to understand them.

This “last message” is a different Malcolm, at least measuring against the two-dimensional, anti-MLK image we typically have of him. It is not so much that he is different that the earlier Malcolm, although he is. The most powerful difference, for me, is his wisdom and maturity. Malcolm is speaking as an established leader, as one voice in a larger movement, and as a man committed to an international vision of justice.

In anticipation of a weekend of media coverage of the 50th anniversary of Malcolm’s murder, here’s that address from a week before, a window into the change agent Malcolm had become in 1965. What a loss that his living influence was cut short.

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Friday Five: 1974

I turned two years old in 1974, too young to have any actual memories. But it was a big year in terms of the music that would form some of my earliest memories. For that matter, it was a killer year for albums.

Santana’s Lotus, Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance, and Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale all came out. So did Phoebe Snow’s self-titled debut, Tom Wait’s The Heart of Saturday Night, and the critically-acclaimed Pretzel Logic by Steel Dan. ABBA, Queen, Elton John, Billy Preston, and the Grateful Dead all had albums that year, too.

And within each are songs I could have easily picked. Here are 5 of my favorite songs, first released in 1974:

5. “Rock Bottom” (UFO)
My goal here isn’t just to share some of the music that makes up the soundtrack of my life but also draw attention to music that I think is worth listening to and, yet, may not be well-known to a younger generation. I’m not sure how many people who lived through 1974 know about UFO. In a lot of ways, they’re the stereotype of a masculinist, glam, European hard rock (maybe metal) band. This song is proof of that, both lyrically and in its intent. But guitarist Michael Schenker is something more. This is from UFO’s third album and their first with the legendary German guitarist (who is the younger brother of Scorpions’ lead Rudy Schenker). I wouldn’t discover him until later, as the lead of MSG, but my favorites of his would always be with UFO. This live performance (from 1975) isn’t as powerful sounding as the album recording but, damn, it’s UFO live!

4. “Black Water” (Doobie Brothers)
I’ll put it simply–we were a Doobie Brothers household. I don’t know why, other than my dad and mom (and uncles) like their sound. In my mind, all LA Chicanos were, though I know better now to think that’s true. Still, the Doobie Brothers were a big deal in LA for most of the 70s. This song was the most enduring hit from their 1974 release What Were Once Vices Are Now Habit. It remains one of my favorites, even now. My first memories of it are listening to it on a record, thinking about acoustic versus electric guitar and enjoying the stereo melodies. I know its an overplayed song, one that probably annoys some. But there’s something to it. If you can turn off everything else other than the music, there’s something there…

3. “Distant Lover” (Marvin Gaye)
This is a cheat, but it’s my list so what can you do? “Distant Lover” was a song on Gaye’s 1973 album Let’s Get It On. This version, though, was recorded in January 1974 at a concert in Oakland, CA, a place that would be home to me throughout most of my 20s. It’s the best track on a killer live album he released in the summer of 1974. Not only is Marvin vocally captivating, almost oozing sexual prowess through his performance, but the crowd is all over the place under his spell. It’s one of those recordings that feel more like a historical document than a record.

2. “Let It Grow” (Eric Clapton)
It’s a funny thing. Eric Clapton is widely regarded as the greatest (or one of the greatest) guitarists of all time and, yet, he never really has ever put out a solo album that the critics instantly fell in love with. 461 Ocean Boulevard might be the closest he came. It was a huge hit for him–I remember seeing the album regularly in people’s personal collections and in stores well into the 80s–and it features his only chart-topping single, his remake of “I Shot the Sheriff.” It’s this song, though, that I fell in love with. I love the laid back, post heroin Clapton in this album and in this song, a kind of restatement of the summer of love in 1974.

1. “You’re No Good” (Linda Ronstadt)
This one is on the list more out of respect than anything else, but I like it (and the album its from) very much. Out of all the songs I picked this week, I suspect this one is the least well-known to folks who came of age after the 70s and 80s. I also suspect it’s the song those generations would be least likely to encounter. And that would be a loss.

Linda Ronstadt has always carried a lot of respect in my family’s house. She’s part Mexican, and that helps. She also made a big splash in the 80s and 90s playing the music of her people, and that’s not for nothing either. But for all those who lived through the 70s, she is best known as the chart-topping artist with the pop sound that just about dominated the airwaves for the decade.

This was a big hit for her, topping the charts by the following year. It’s a great sample of her voice as well as the pop/rock/country sound she came to be associated with. It’s also a great example of well-produced music that sounds best on vinyl. For Ronstadt, its proof she was more than a pretty face. I can remember riding in our family’s Ford Pinto and hearing this song on an FM station, warm LA breeze coming in through the rolled-down windows…

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Friday Five: 1973

I turned 1 in 1973. So, much like the music in last week’s post, my memories of these songs date from much later than the year in which they were released. And, like for most of the 70s, its hard for me to narrow down a year to only five songs. The early decade, in particular, seems to be the source of a lot of the music I continue to obsess over in my present.

So with the below list my goal is to offer an eclectic sample of five tunes that were first released in 1973.

5. “The Joker” (Steve Miller Band)
I’m not afraid to admit that if you had asked the 19-year-old me what my favorite song was I just might have said “The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band. My connection to his music was painfully limited for most of my young life. I knew (and loved) his 1982 hit “Abracadabra” because of my age and young tolerance for mediocre pop. I also had a hand-me-down t-shirt of his rainbow pegasus emblem, a piece of clothing that made me pretend like he was one of my favorites even though the only other song I knew from him was his late-70s hit “Fly Like An Eagle.” Reflective of the cultural specificity of an LA-area, Chicano upbringing, I don’t recall hearing the bulk of his 70s hits until high school, when I started listening to KLOS radio. In the first week of attending a largely-white and affluent college, I quickly observed that he would become part of the soundtrack of the next four years of my life. I bought his ubiquitous “Greatest Hits, 1974-78″ album, saw him three times in concert, and relished his minor comeback in the early 90s. It wasn’t until a few years later that I had started to listen to his earlier (and much more amazing) work. Regardless, this song will always be near and dear to my heart.

4. “Show and Tell” (Al Wilson)
When I think of the 1970s and the music that means a lot to me, I think of a lot of music that played on the radio as I played with my cousins (and my folks and the other adults drank, danced, or just hung out). Maybe one way to think about these songs is as R&B tunes that had purchase over that African American cultural space shared by Chicanos, where groups like Bloodstone or Heatwave made newer contributions to 50s doo-wop and 60s soul. Al Wilson was part of that, at least for me. This song was his biggest hit, and an enduring part of my own musical soundtrack.

3. “Midnight Train to Georgia” (Gladys Knight & the Pips)
Already well-known and successful in the world of R&B, Gladys Knight and crew left Motown Records in the early 1970s. They started recording for Buddah Records, even though Motown still had music of their’s left to release. In 1973, two of their albums hit the charts, one from each label. This song–the opening track from the album Imagination (Buddah)–was released as a single a few months before the album dropped. It’s one of the group’s signature hits, and for all the right reasons. This has got just about every good thing in the world happening in it, from the horns, to the voices, to the lyrics. I even remember watching the choreographed dance routines that accompanied TV performances of it. I would easily count this in my top-50 songs I never get tired of listening to…

2. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” (Stevie Wonder)
This song was released as a single in 1973, even though it was part of Stevie’s 1972 album Talking Book. It’s not my favorite song by him–and I have a handful that tie as favorites–but it’s a song I like very, very much and, more importantly, one I know very well. It’s one of those songs I feel like I know as long as I’ve known any song. It’s never not been a part of the soundtrack of my life, whether on LA radio, family get togethers, or my own CD collection. It comes from Stevie’s “golden period,” a span of about a decade where he’s putting out almost an album every year. He plays multiple instruments on most of those songs, and takes great care with lyrics as well as composition and production. This one is a lot lighter (for lack of a better word) than the rest, and maybe sticks out for that reason.

1. “Let’s Get It On” (Marvin Gaye)
I’m not surprised that Marvin Gaye’s 1973 hit has become part of mainstream pop culture. For those that didn’t live through the period of its initial success, I think it’s important to understand how his was not a predestined thing. Growing up, I don’t remember the song getting a lot mainstream circulation, even on LA oldies radio. I heard it on some stations late at night, and I knew it from family parties and that sort of thing, but it was always more of a well-known secret.  When I rediscovered the song in my late teens, I feel like that was in a period where other gen x’ers were doing the same. By the mis-1990s, the song reached the iconic status it holds today in part, I think, on that resurgence.  Today it’s status is not just a sultry R&B song that pushed the boundaries of sexually-expressive music, but its even a frequent feature in movies, TV shows, and commercials. His “too-dirty-for-the-mainstream” song has become, in fact, mainstream. However it happened, it’s a deserved status for one of our most underrated musical powerhouses. As with most of his best work from the 70s, time has not tempered its power.

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First Reviews

Though my book was released in summer of 2013, it’s only now starting to be reviewed in various scholarly journals. I’m happy to report that the reviews have been generally positive, too.

Here’s a list with links, although some can’t be accessed freely:

The Journal of American History, vol. 101, no. 3 (Dec. 2014): 892-893.
Western Historical Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 4 (Winter 2014): 481-81.
Regeneración Tlacuilolli: UCLA Raza Studies Journal, vol. 1, no. 1 (Dec. 2014): 167-69.
Utah Historical Review, vol. 4 (2014): 257-59.

This last review seems to have a formatting error. It’s not listed in the Table of Contents and doesn’t have an author listed. It shares specific analysis with the one published in the online journal from UCLA. My guess is it was reworked by the same author for republication.

As you might imagine, it’s pretty great feeling. You spend years of your life working on something, making it better and better until you finally just let it go. Then you start second guessing yourself. Is it any good? Is it useful? Will people like it?

These first reviews are helping to put all those feelings of inadequacy into perspective. I think the most rewarding part is that I can be sure there are at least a few people out there who have read my book. As more reviews come in, hopefully that group will continue to grow–and that’s a great feeling.

So thanks for the support!

BNitoOhCUAAflkN

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Looking for Justice

I took this shot at the door of the Supreme Court building, during a recent trip to D.C.

photo.JPG

© T. F. Summers Sandoval (2015).

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History is not the past…

A friend of mine made this a short video from a talk I gave in San Francisco last fall. The talk was about my book on the history of Latinos in the city–Latinos at the Golden Gate–but, as you can see, it was also about some of the present struggle Latino communities are facing.

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Friday Five: 1972

This is the end of the first week of the spring semester at the Claremont Colleges. And each spring I get to teach my class on comparative race movements of the post-WWII era, “All Power to the People!” One of my favorite things about the class is the music. We start each class with a song, something that usually aligns with the topic or theme of that day’s class.

Even though I’m the teacher, it’s a great learning experience for me. The goal of finding music that’s appropriate for the class fuels a lot of my listening habits on a weekly basis. As a result, I continue to discover songs from the past that I’ve never heard before, songs that are great and that fit perfectly into the class. I also get to play songs I know intimately and love passionately with a group of young people who, often, have never heard them before.

That’s always been the point behind this “Friday Five” thing, too. So, I started thinking it might be fun to cover the span of my life through these weekly posts. I can still share music, but by covering one year each week I get a more organized way of writing about the music I love and remember, as well as discover stuff I missed along the way or rediscover the stuff I forgot about.

So, here we go! I was born in 1972, and so the music I love from that year is a mix of songs I remember hearing a lot as a small child as well as songs I’ve come to love in my teen and adult years. These five are a mix of both, all worth a listen.

5. “Garden Party” (Rick Nelson)
At some point in the 1980s, one of the “basic cable” stations started playing repeats of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” I knew about Ricky Nelson and his family before that, mostly through pop cultural references and appearances on talk shows. While his teen hits were in regular radio play in my youth, this is the song I most associate with the times. It’s a mix of country and rock, something that somehow sounds so 70s and, yet, kind of reminiscent of earlier sounds.

4. “A Horse With No Name” (America)
At some point in the 1980s, I started to understand the negative reaction to 70s pop that was widespread within segments of the hardcore rock ‘n roll purists. I suspect folks like that hated the band America. The lead singer sounded like Steven Stills, and their music sounded like the kind of “AM Gold” that dominated the airwaves in the 70s. But I can’t deny this song its rightful place in my youthful memories. I can remember hearing it as a small kid, riding in our Ford Pinto, holding on to my doll of The Six Million Dollar Man. Even now, the sound of it is both comforting and kind of haunting.

3. “Burning Love” (Elvis)
It’s the King’s last song to enter the Top Ten, and his last #1 single. And it’s so gorgeously white-leather-jump-suit-in-Vegas that I can’t help myself!

2. “Use Me” (Bill Withers)
I just couldn’t be happier that Bill Withers is getting inducted in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame this spring. The man was viciously good, as a song writer and performer. This is, hands down, my favorite song of his. I can still remember the first time I ever really listened to the lyrics. I was a teenager and even though I had known the song for my entire life, I had never really thought about what it was about. It’s a hefty piece of music, sexy, soulful, and funny. (The single version, below, is tight. But I’ve long had a soft spot for this acoustic version, too.)

1. “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green)
It might be cheating to add Al Green’s most famous hit to a list of 1972 songs since it was first released as a single the year before. But the song was the highlight of his album of the same name, released in 1972. The song reached #1 on the Billboard “Hot 100″ in that year, coming in at #11 for the year overall. Al Green is in my “holy trinity” of musical performers, along with Elvis and Tom Waits. Few people can turn it on like he could. Willie Mitchell, his producer, deserves a lot of the credit. But that voice!

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