“The Year of Living Stevie” is host Daryl Bean’s biweekly podcast about life, creativity, and the music of Stevie Wonder. In each episode, musicians explore Stevie’s influence, and the affect his music has had on them.
In this episode, musician/vocalist/songwriter/producer Nadir Omowale and his band (Steve Caldwell, guitar; Phil Whitfield, keyboards; Chris Spooner, bass; Lauren Johnson, drums) talk about political activism through music, their deep well of experience in the industry, and what made Nadir want to throw his bass at a drummer (not Lauren). Plus they perform two deep Stevie tracks, “That Girl”, from Original Musiquarium, and “Let’s Get Serious” (a hit for Jermaine Jackson, but written and produced by Stevie).
Purged, a multi-faceted multimedia exhibit, is all about the art of metamorphosis. Detroit artist Nancy J. Rodwan requested that people she knows give her items they’d been meaning to dispose of but for some reason had stored away in their closets, attics, basements, or garages. Everyone she asked enthusiastically offered her a variety of things ranging from old electronics and clothing to books and kitchen utensils – all of which she completely transformed into art.
Examples of the paintings, sculptures, assemblages, collages, and fiber art Rodwan created from cast-off detritus include: A bold doll-like figure called “The Deity of Funk Stitched Together from Jive Ass Slippers” made from the leather baby shoes donated by musician Nadir Omowale; A majestic horse head-shaped wooden sculpture called “Gizo’s Great Horse” carved from a piece of molding from an old Detroit building given to her by Olyami Dabls, the artist and founder of Dabls African Bead Museum; A sculpture suggesting a robotic hand crafted from pieces of a typewriter salvaged frthe former headquarters of the Detroit Free Press by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and talk show host Stephen Henderson.
“How Cool is That” was inspired by a pair of Wonder Woman dolls donated by Detroit radio legend Ann Delisi. Nancy Rodwan explains:
“I am a big fan of Ann Delisi’s show Essential Music on Detroit’s WDET and listen to it in my studio regularly. The deep thought, research and pure fun she puts into her program inspires me. Ann can often be heard saying – how cool is that? – when something strikes her fancy. It makes me smile every time she says it. I wanted to create something fun with the dolls. I asked Nadir Omowale to write a funky love song titled “How Cool Is That?” and I created a stop-motion film featuring the lovebird dolls.
20 years ago today Rodney King was beaten by LA police officers after a high speed chase. The attack was videotaped by a resident in a nearby apartment complex, and later aired around the world. We all witnessed the brutality inflicted by men who were trusted to protect and serve.
Over a year later those police officers were acquitted, and that miscarriage of justice sparked one of the worst race riots in US history. The burning and looting was televised as well. We all watched as black people beat a white truck driver, and entire neighborhoods went up in smoke at the hands of local residents.
2000 miles away in Nashville, Tennessee, my roommate, Steve and I tried to make sense of it all. Steve, who is white, could certainly understand the anger, but couldn’t fathom why these people were so enraged that they would destroy their own community.
In those nights of frank discussion I found it difficult to explain the madness. It was hard for me to articulate to my white middle class friend the frustration and alienation that blacks in America felt at that time.
With this verdict we saw proof that our lives were meaningless in the eyes of the US legal system. Here was evidence that a man had been beaten unjustly, but the perpetrators were found not guilty. A jury of the officer’s peers – not Rodney King’s peers, mind you – said it was okay. This was the America we lived in every day.
Would I be next? There was no way to know.
A few weeks later, I wrote this song. It was recorded in 1995 by my band Jack Johnson for our album Round One. In retrospect, I’m not sure I articulated the anger any better, but I believe the recording, and especially the one-take solo by guitarist Paul Cochrane, captures the frenzy and fury of those long dark days.
Has America improved since then? I think so. But I still get that feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I see a squad car behind me. I wonder if that feeling will ever go away…
“Fields Are Burning”
Written by Kurtis McFarland
Performed by Jack Johnson (the band) for the album Round One (PC! Music)
Produced by Kurtis McFarland & Rob Feaster
Paul Cochrane – guitar
Simone White – drums
Ethan Pilzer – bass
Kurtis McFarland – vocals, guitar, programming