What’s it all about, Alfie? What does it mean to be alternative? That question is still front and center for me, and it will drive the bus from the backseat, sometimes it might even find itself hanging on for dear life as other words and phrases and clauses press the gas and try to steer me clear away from the subject at hand.
Alternatives, though, have become the norm in the age of New Journalism because alternatives are abound. So many voices scream and shout that the piercing static is now just so much white noise. And as we continue to bring the noise, we fracture and fragment the messages, creating niches within niches within niches. There is no us, no alternative community, just a collection of individuals with no sense of the elements that make us who we are.
When the Prez sang, “Let’s Stay Together,” he was getting a little ahead of himself, much like that hope that he was promising back during his first campaign. In this case, we’ve got to get together, in one place, behind one idea before we can stand and stay as one. Maybe instead of Reverend Al, Obama should have spit some of the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, a little “Get It Together.” He could honor Adam Yauch (aka MCA) by asking Mitt Romney and the Republicans to try to “feel what I’m feeling … it’s a musical masterpiece, hear what I’m hearing, well, that’s cool at least.”
Apparently, that’s a mighty task, putting yourself in the soles of another, to walk or run that extra mile — but that’s what MCA, that beast of a Beastie, one of the boys who became men of the world, represented.
Those of us of a certain age remember fighting for our right to party, but the real revolution was to come and it transcended the music. Yauch embraced Buddhism, started Oscilloscope Laboratories, an indie film production & distribution company, and fought cancer to a very too-short end.
His Hall of Fame worthy 47 years, though, they frighten and inspire me. I’m five years behind him, and although we try to convince ourselves that with each new decade we look and feel like the one we’ve just left behind, at 40 a new quieter reality sets in, especially for men. We know we’re no longer the invincible young iron men we were, but now we must check in for annual check-ups.
Remember when all we had to do was check the rhymes?
But that’s no excuse to stop playing the game. Back in 2006, when The Alternative’s initial run came to an abrupt close, I wrapped the cloak of my hip outsider status around my shoulders and locked myself inside a fortress of critical passivity. I was a few years shy of the dreaded 4-0, but ready and willing to turn my back on the action.
And then came Obama’s hope. It was easy to fall back on cynicism in the face of the election’s call for change. It was easy because I had never dreamed of seeing the day when a black president would lead these United States. I sat at home with my wife and a couple of friends election night, as the results came in I stared in disbelief at the rising tides swallowing the country whole, and refused to believe.
Even when the networks called it and McCain contacted Obama, even after the Inauguration, I refused to buy in. Let’s see if he makes it past Black History Month, I said, then, maybe I’ll concede. Every marker came and went and still he, somewhat unsteadily at times, remained.
What kept me from embracing Obama was less the historic nature of his accomplishment; it was the fact that he represented a challenge to me. He was the embodiment of The Alternative. It was alive and well, seemingly without me.
There was nothing perfect about it. To my mind, Obama had compromised away all of the hope and change in his pockets and then stripped off his suit and tie for good measure, which justified my doubts, but somehow he had touched a nerve. Every time he stood in front of the cameras and was broadcast either live or via YouTube, there he was addressing me directly, calling me out. He was in the game.
And I needed to get back in because while I had been watching and waiting, Cincinnati had begun to take this “itty bitty world by storm” and was just getting warm. The region was experiencing real growing pains. While glazing over in theaters, I had failed to adequately acknowledge the steady shift in regional filmmaking. Restaurant culture, which dominated television (everything from a host of Travel Channel spotlights on global cuisine to a multitude of competitive cooking shows), teased our collective palates. Heroes were rising in the arts community and there was something very familiar about them. We could see them in the crowd-sourced short Radius, that perfect reflection.
For me, Radius was the final piece of the alternative puzzle. It made me see that I was, once again, part of The Alternative. And more importantly, the once and future Queen City was ready to step into the spotlight.
I’m black in the day and it’s good to be home again.
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