Worth a Click

Just look around you, it’s easy to see — there’s nothing we women can’t be! Ten points for you if you remember that song. I could only find a link to it in Dutch, which is kind of hilarious.

(an aside — I had a pretty depressing YouTube realization the other day. I rely so much on them, and so many of their videos have been removed, I probably have a ton of posts with dead links. Sucks, and there’s nothing I can do about it).

Back to outstanding female achievement — bellas, meet Barbara Hillary, the first black woman to reach the North Pole. She is 75, and a cancer survivor. And I love the matter-of-fact attitude she’s shown towards her achievement. From this AP article:

Hillary insisted on skiing. Only trouble was, she had never been on the slopes before. “It wasn’t a popular sport in Harlem,” she quipped. So she enrolled in cross-country skiing lessons and hired a personal trainer, who finally determined she was physically fit for the voyage. “She’s a headstrong woman. You don’t tell her ‘no’ about too many things,” Russell said. Her lack of funds didn’t stop her, either. Hillary scraped together thousands of dollars and solicited private donors. On April 18, she arrived in Longyearben, Norway, where it is common for people to carry guns to ward off hungry polar bears. “Before I arrived, the word was out that soul food was coming,” she joked.

Barbara Hillary doesn’t want her remarkable feat to be all about race, either. “She hopes her journey will inspire hope in other cancer survivors. With her feet back on dry land in New York, she is already plotting a new adventure: that of a global-warming activist. “What if?” she said. “I’d like to go and lecture to different groups on what they can do on a grass-roots level (to fight global warming).” Hats off to you, Barbara Hillary! We all need some of that can-do attitude. If we believe it, we can achieve it.

I do have a sense of humor, I do. But when this individual tried to add me on MySpace, I was less than amused. That to me is just lame, uninspired, and insulting. Sorry, y’all. DENIED. As Novaslim points out, Don Imus’ phrase lives on. Man, people will cash in on anything.

Had a pretty crappy work week? Dropped your cell phone in the toilet? Found a new scratch on your car? Relax, take a deep breath and know that everything’s still OK in the world. At least Paris Hilton is going to jail! Someone make a schadenfreude pie! I’ve been loving the coverage on TMZ and DListed. But in yet another sign that petitions have jumped the shark, Paris Hilton has a don’t-send-me-to-jail petition. If (and that’s a big if) I were to sign a petition about Paris Hilton, it’d be the one to send her to jail forever.

I’m as anti-Paris Hilton as I’m pro-Beth Ditto. A month ago, I didn’t know much about her other than she’s apparently a friend of Perez Hilton’s, she seems to have sprung straight out of a John Waters movie (she’s like a punk rock Tracy Turnblad and I LOVE that), and she’s super popular in the UK. Before I even listened to her music, I found her persona intriguing. I’m an anglophile for sure, but I’m extra intrigued by the Americans who become British icons by adoption. Beth Ditto and The Gossip are from Arkansas. Why is she being featured on magazine covers and being considered the coolest in the UK, and not here?

Now Standing in the Way of Control has earned a spot in my workout songs playlist. That song was written in opposition to the US government’s view on gay marriage. “Nobody in the States was that surprised or shocked by what Bush did, but it made everyone I know feel helpless and cheated. I wrote the chorus to try and encourage people not to give up. It’s a scary time for civil rights, but I really believe the only way to survive is to stick together and keep fighting,” Ditto explains.

This might sound like blasphemy to some of you, but I kind of admired their rock n’ roll cover of Aaliyah’s Are You That Somebody. That’s a brave, quirky song to cover, and please don’t throw rocks at me for saying that. My favorite song and video by The Gossip is Listen Up, in which she knits, rocks out with a slice of pizza, and sings lyrics that directly address stuff I’ve been through.

“Everybody knows someone like that, Who borrows money and won’t pay you back. They’ll talk about about at the drop of a hat, And lie about it to your face, when they’re caught. There’s some people that you just can’t trust, But some people just talk too much. Take my advice, and listen up, Dont be a fool like the rest of us.”

That song made me feel like she’s directly speaking to me. So I was already convinced that Beth Ditto’s a sage, then I read her advice column in The Guardian, and I loved it. I’m a newly converted, die hard Beth Ditto fan. Won’t you join me?

I love when a celebrities use their fame to have something refreshing and intelligent to say. So needless to say, I’m super excited about Dead Prez’s new magazine! I have a lot of respect for Dead Prez, and I think they are among very few rappers who take their message seriously. I might not agree with everything they’re saying, but I love that they’re saying something. I’ll definitely support their endeavor. As soon as I read an issue, I’ll discuss this further.

I got lots of positive feedback on my Mahalia Jackson post, but one comment threw me for a loop — I had one commenter admit that she’d never heard of Mahalia Jackson before. That got me wondering about the younger generations, and how much older music might be lost to them. So I’m stepping up my flashback jam game to try to shed light on artists who might be forgotten or at the very least, slept on.

Stevie Wonder might seem like an odd person to start out with, the man just dropped a halfway decent album last year. But I’m not sure if people today remember just how funky Stevie was back in the day. Peep this funky breakdown on Sesame Street in 1972. There’s not a whiff of “I Just Called To Say I Love You” cheese in that jam.

We grew up with a large record collection, and there were some timeless, funky soul classics among the calypso and Bob Marley catalog. The Best of Earth Wind and Fire? Check. The Jackson Five Christmas album? Check. Songs in the Key of Life? Definitely a big check. Another, less popular Stevie Wonder album that we owned was Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, which I’ve come to realize is probably the most slept on of any Stevie Wonder’s albums. The critics hated it, and fans didn’t embrace this mostly instrumental double album soundtrack as the followup to the timeless classic that is Songs in the Key of Life.

Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants came out in 1979, the year I was born. So my memory of its presence in our living room under the stereo goes back early as birth. The jacket was a cool mint green, and there was braille on it. It’s a double album, and the inside folded out to a picture of Stevie Wonder circa 1979, when he was apparently going through a “I ain’t wearing no sunglasses” phase. I cannot tell you how terrified I was of that photo. And there are tracks on the album that are also terrifying to a little one’s ears.

The album is a soundtrack to The Secret Life of Plants, a documentary that makes extensive use of time-lapse photography to reveal the behavior of flowers and leaves. The music flows seamlessly, and I’m sure if enjoyed in conjunction with the documentary could make for a memorable Pink-Floyd-and-The-Wizard-of-Oz experience. Except, you know, funkier.

Some of the tracks are just straight-up trippy and scary. Some are poignant instrumentals. And many are Stevie classics that not enough people know. Listen to the brief audio samples on the Amazon page and you’ll see — Outside My Window is a lovely little singalong. Same Old Story and Black Orchid are slow and heavy and achingly lovely (such a shame you can’t hear that chorus). To this day, the word Ecclesiastes reminds me of my big brother Patrick, because he loved that ponderous, majestic track so much. Kesse Ye Lolo de Ye is a heartwarming African chorus (it means “a seed’s a star”), Come Back as a Flower is a pretty, sweet lullaby sung by Yvonne Wright, and the title track, The Secret Life of Plants, is a timeless Stevie Wonder classic. The video reveals Stevie as he is in the album cover, without his glasses, wandering through beautiful pastoral scenes. It’s pretty amazing, but the sound quality isn’t the best.

Overjoyed was left off this album in order to anchor the considerably wacker In Square Circle. Send One Your Love was the hit ballad from Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, and it’s one of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs.

Now that I’m older, I can fully appreciate his unappreciated album, scary photo and all. The concept is so beautiful, so powerful — a blind man expressing such heartfelt musical appreciation for that which he can never see, and so bravely baring his sightless orbs to the world. It must have felt so freeing. If you don’t have any Stevie Wonder in your music collection, do yourself a favor, and go get Talking Book and Songs in the Key of Life with a quickness. I think those are the two best introductions to the continuing career of an American musical legend.

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Comments

  1. Bella,
    I just checked out Beth Ditto and she is great!!!

  2. I was 9 in 1979 and I think I remember my mother playing Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. My favorite was (and still is) Send One Your Love. I remember my mom and cousin saying that Stevie was under a lot of pressure to produce something big after the monumental, instantly legendary Songs in the Key of Life.

    Oh, and Barbara Hillary = DIVA!

  3. Growing up, my father LOVED him some stevie. I woke up many a saturday morning to “As” or “Isn’t she Lovely” playing full blast from the front room. I remember listening to hip hop songs as I got older thinkin’ hey – that’s a stevie song they sampled- Coolio’s Gangsta’ Paradise comes to mind. I play His happy birtday song on MLK’s Birthday and mine every year. I have too many favorites to list.

  4. I feel blessed that I grew up in a house full of music lovers. I was born in 1975, but I grew up with everything from the blues to the Beatles to P-Funk to Boogie Down Productions and everything in between. I am definitely a Stevie Wonder fan. Songs in The Key of Life and Innervisions are pure inspiration, and I love the Cd “The Original Musiquarium” because it is all of Stevie’s 70s and early 80s hits (none of that mid 80s awfulness) and Send One Your Love and Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You) are on there. And I read about Ms. Barbara on another new site–what an amazing woman!

  5. Weird. This showed up fine for me at home, but half of the Barbara Hillary post is cut off here at my work computer. Is it screwy for you too, bellas? Let me know. I’m trying to figure out a way to still be as longwinded as I am, but keep the overall appearance of my page in tact.

  6. Bella,

    Thanks for introducing me to Beth Ditto. I’ve seen her on Perezhilton but didn’t know she was so bad ass.

    Tan

  7. Patrick Jnr. says:

    Hi Patrice thanks for the memories with Stevie Wonder! I am at work now and missing the top half of the post as well.

    Take care, looking forward to seeing you at the end of the month…

  8. MochaSiren says:

    I’m a 1971 baby. My older sis had the Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants album and I agree with Nichelle (which by the way happens to be my middle name!)the song “Send One You Love” was and will always be one of Stevie’s best songs. You bellas should also check our Innervisons which includes “Livin’ For the City” and many other jams.

    By the way, anybody remember the movie Sparkle? My twin sis bought it when it came out on DVD a few months ago. Aretha Franklin did the entire “superbad” (lol) soundtrack. My dad had the 8 track(!) and the tape was PINK!

    Afrobella, please continue to take us back down memory lane…I’m lovin’ it!

  9. MochasSiren – always glad to meet another Nichelle. Well, almost right? :)

  10. lionessam says:

    Yeah afrobella I remembered seeing that album when I was growing up too and my mom letting me feel the braille on the inside. “Send One Your Love” is one of my favorite songs by Stevie. He’s timeless to me. I have his “At A Close of A Century 4 disc CD. My mom and my dad are big Stevie fans as well as I. I’m 28 and I listen to him, Earth, Wind and Fire, Parliament, etc. My dad has a whole record collection and I’m talking about actual records. I remember growing up and my dad playing them all the time. And my dad listens to all kinds of music, rock, pop, blues, R&B. So do I. I remember my dad playing Brian Adams too. So I guess you can say I grew up with old school. Now it’s the only thing I really can stand listening to besides some of the newer artists that I like that convey that old school flavor. So I know what you’re talking about :)

  11. BlackFlowerPower says:

    I’m in, Afrobella. Thanks for introducing me to Beth Ditto and The Gossip. I’m already doing my part to share the love.

    I’m also a child of the Seventies (gotta love ‘em!). I began my education in the subjects of Love, Loss and Hope listening to Steveland’s “Songs in the Key of Life.” I listened to it over and over and over. Even at 5 and 6 years old “Joy Inside My Tears” could move me to tears. (Of course, I didn’t understand why.) And, I especially loved “As.”

    A few years back, I broke down and bought the CD and fell in love with it all over again. Stevie Wonder is an amazing musician and visionary. Thanks for featuring him.

  12. E-Fresh says:

    I can’t believe the Akon post is blowing up, and here only a couple readers have left even have a comment about Barbara Hillary. What a shame. But, what an inspiring story. Here I am having trouble getting a job in sunny San Diego and a cancer surivor 75 year old lady who’s never skiied before is trekking to the North Pole. Wow.

    Forget about Akon, what a joke. What’s happened to all the true artists like Stevie Wonder? Thanks for the Sesame Street youtube link, I found the Sesame Street Superstition jam through it, simply amazing. I love the little 6 year old girl rockin’ out to the funkyness.

    And such hate for Paris. I wonder what I’d be like if I was raised the same way?

  13. Mona B. says:

    Hi Bella!! I just wanted to offer my kudos to you. Your site is always fabulous, but you’ve really been BRINGING IT lately! Love it!

  14. Ohmygooodness…the Beth Ditto version of “Are you that somebody” was awesome. It took me a second to get into it, but I loved it. I also admire the fact that Aaliyah can be experienced through other genres. Love it love it. Keep up the spectacular job Bella!

    AJ

  15. SlumBeautiful says:

    Can’t say enough about Barbara Hillary, she really is a true inspiration. Beth Ditto = LOVE HER!!! Since my favorite genre of music is underground alternative/rock, I’ve be up on the Gossip for a while, and thanks to SXSW I finally had a chance to see/hear her live strip-tease and all. The one thing that Perez is good at is introducing people to great artists/bands.

  16. This is a very inspiring post (however, the top half is cut off on my computer). I loved reading about Barbara Hillary and of course I know about Stevie Wonder. I grew up with his songs. It’s great that you are exposing artists from the 70s/80s to the younger generation. Any chance you could do a post on Minnie Riperton – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Minnie_Riperton_Perfect_Angel.jpg/ ?
    She had a wonderful voice that influenced a lot of today’s artists and she was rockin’ the ‘fro back in the day.

  17. I’m feeling that Standing in the Way of Control! I love the video, it’s so cheap and 80′s and awesome. I had heard of Beth Ditto before but didn’t know who she was, I happened upon a picture of her wearing spandex shorts and bent all the way over. I honestly thought she was some kind of porn star. But from what you’ve shown, their music is right up my alley. She certainly makes some interesting fashion choices, but she is a beautiful girl and I am all for people being comfortable in their bodies, as I try to be.

  18. I read about the Hillary story in our Trinidad newspapers and I guess it was taken from an American one.

    We still play the Secret Life album – Dom & Patrick Jr. really love it.

    And I don’t find that your stuff is longwinded..it always hits the groove!

  19. E-Fresh says:

    Just got around to reading the Beth Ditto article. She sounds like a really cool person. I’d hang out with her. Ha.

    Your pumped out so much material today, B. You should consider saving some of it for those tougher writing periods when you’re really busy. But maybe, that’s not how you roll : )

  20. Sup E? I know it looks like I cranked out a lot today (probably should have saved this Worth a Click for Friday), but I’d been working on this post all week so it was more-or-less ready to go. I only found out about Akon last night, and (perhaps foolishly), felt compelled to be timely. I called Jess and we had a good laugh about those comments, though =)

  21. Reina Pirata says:

    Hey bella I have to say that as a self-described afrolatina queer girl with carribean roots your blog is outstanding for being real and giving credit where it is due. Keep up the good work and definitely check out more of The Gossip’s stuff and attend one of their shows if you can. Beth’s energy and sass are as mind blowing as her booming voice. Thanks for giving them props!

  22. Beth Ditto is amazing…I’m originally from London, and she’s truly loved all over the UK. Maybe its because in the UK we appreciate quirkiness, we do NOT subscribe to being put in boxes, and in terms of style we are more organic and original in our approach. That’s why Beth Ditto is the new icon not just in terms of fashion and music, but because she represents the antithesis of the blond/polished/manufactured/size zero starlets who are certainly not to be aspired to.

  23. BYRDPARKER says:

    I love the secret life of plants , i thought that was his best work ever. Ms Hillary is truly an inspiration , or what one can do when they put thier mind to it . It’s fabulous to see someone live thier dream , even when life knocks them down .

    beth ditto , i guess she is an aquired taste. She is like a shock rocker .

    She is not the first ” fat lesbian to sing” if that really is important . How about Toshi Reagon ?? she is a lesbian , she is extrememly talented her albums were fabulous , and live shows inspiring , but i guess she just didn’t have shock power, even though she came from a feminist backgroung , her mom was Bernice Reagon a civil rights activist and founder of grammy award wining Sweet honey and rock !!!!

  24. westindiangal says:

    I love Beth Ditto & The Gossip! I just missed them in San Francisco. I find that the British audience and British music is much more open than we are. That is why Beth Ditto is finding acceptance there. Amy Winehouse is huge in the UK and I got to see her for $20 here in the US. I think we’ve been stunted by our top 40 radio lists and MTV’s lack of cutting edge music.

    I think Barbara Hillary is an inspiration. There’s a difference between being an old woman and a woman who’s older. She’s a woman who’s older, but with a young spirit. I love that.

  25. ohhh! reading this post makes me so happy! we can do anything at any age!

  26. I remember the ‘Women’ song from Sesame Street! :)

  27. Thanks, Afrobella, for all the positives about Stevie. He is the greatest musician of the past half-century (that includes the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Miles Davis, etc.) and certainly one of the greatest of all time. Besides his achievements as a premier songwriter and performer, don’t forget that his introduction of the synthesizer (with “Music of My Mind,” I believe)revolutionized modern music and culture.

    I am a baby boomer who was a teenager throughout the 70s. I remember the summer of 1974 as the time the Watergate scandal finally came to a head, resulting in Richard Nixon’s resignation in August. That same month, Stevie released “Fulfillingness’ First Finale,” and it was all we could talk about. We played it, replayed it, studied it and debated it. Besides “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” with the Jackson Five, and “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” there were few fast/Top 40/dance tracks. Stevie was introspective, and he made us stop and think more about life, death and love with “Smile, Please,” “Heaven is 10 Zillion Miles Away,” and “Creepin’”. Stevie’s 70s albums were the soundtrack of our young lives.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] times and bad. Stevie Wonder is a musical legend, and today he turns 57. Here’s a link to my last little Stevie tribute, and here’s his video for Lately. It’s very simple — just Stevie and the piano. [...]

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