Pink in the Funhouse

October 14, 2009

I’m entirely too old for this – and any younger readers will be asking me what took me so long – but I am suddenly a big fan of the rock star, P!nk !

I guess it’s because her song, “Please Don’t Leave Me” has been getting so much airplay. It’s catchy, one of those stays-in-your-head kind of songs. But wow – have you ever really listened to the lyrics? It’s all about the love/hate and the intensity of both in an abusive relationship.

I went to her website PinksPage (be sure to go here – and don’t try to guess her website name, as I did – because you will be in for a very rude and inappropriate surprise) – and got to learn all things P!nk.  The more I explored there, the more I recognized some more of her songs as being familiar. And then found out that her current album, Funhouse – has been out for almost a year, and a lot of songs from this particular album will be familiar as well. “So what” – the nah-na-nah-na-nah-na “I’m a rock star” , arrogant,  in your face, tune is just one example. (Ok. So that’s one I dont’ care for).

Of course, this will be very very old news to anyone under 30, but I’m not, so it’s all new to me. But I gotta say, I like her and her music. My generation’s female rock icon was Madonna – it seems P!nk fills the same role for today.

Her musical style is very versitile – from an acoustic guitar ballad to straight on rock to a few that although rock , have a very bluesy feel to them because of the tone of her voice.

I don’t know if the Grammy cycle has already come and gone or if Funhouse is still eligible – but it definitely could take Best Album, as well as earning P!nk a Best Female Vocalist award. There’s a lot here – both musically, and lyrically.

I think what I like best about much of this album is the lyrics that she crafts. They all tell a story. Often, like “Please Don’t Leave Me” – the story is a double edged sword – love/hate, violence with an upbeat “da da da” background bubblegum vocal. I like the contrasts and the irony.

Much of the album seems to be autobiographical, at least, according to some of her public statements, like the synopsis she gives on her website. That makes it even more intriguing.  If that’s the case – or even if it is just the public persona she is crafting – she becomes the epitome of strength and vulnerability, tragic flaw plus extraordinary talent.

I’m not sure if she is solely responsible for most of her lyrics, but they are well-written and burst with irony and tension. One line from “Crystal Ball,” for example: “Sometimes you think everything  / Is wrapped inside a diamond ring.” Or this one, from “Mean” – “It’s like a train wreck, trying to hit the right track.” Clever, clever stuff.

I like rockers who are smart, aren’t afraid to speak their (real) mind – who aren’t just posing and out to make millions.  A strong woman who shows the boys that they’re not the only ones who can rock n roll. And even more surprising – an openness and recognition of flaws, and a willingness to work that into the lyrics of her songs.  All of that makes P!nk’s Funhouse pack a powerful punch!  I might be late to P!nk in general and to Funhouse in particular, but she’s definitely got a place in my music collection, now.

© writingreading, 2009

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Famous Women You’ve Never Heard Of – #2 – Callie House

June 29, 2008

Callie House is not an everyday name in women’s history, or even in African-American history. But she should be. An African-American washerwoman who had been born into slavery in 1861 in Rutherford County, Tennessee, she later moved to Nashville where she would launch a movement in the late 1890s for justice and civil rights that loomed so powerful and seemed so threatening to the established order of things that high-ranking officials in Washington, DC had her arrested, imprisoned, and repeatedly took a variety of measures to suppress the movement.

Her cause? Federally paid pensions for former slaves, who had toiled for years and decades without wages. Motivated in part by the Federal pensions paid to former Union soldiers, and a similar, but different, type of ex-slave pension movement begun by white Southerner Walter R. Vaughan, House believed that only through activism within the African-American community could the cause be brought to fruition in a way that would be truly beneficial to the black community. Vaughan’s plan did not have the best interests of African-Americans at heart; he simply wanted to bring more financial wherewithal to blacks still living in the South, as a way to prop up the South’s economic woes. Ultimately, he sought an “economic stimulus package” for blacks, who would then spend their funds with white merchants, thus growing the economy of the post-Reconstruction white South.

House partnered with an African-American man, also from Rutherford County, and a former agent for Vaughan, named Isaiah Dickerson. Together, they established the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association, hosting their first convention in 1898. The organization grew quickly, with local chapters established throughout the country. Not only was one of the stated aims of the organization to introduce and secure passage of a pension bill in Congress for former slaves, but it was also to provide assistance to members of the local communities, such as providing support for orphans and covering burial expenses.

As the movement gained strength and numbers, the Federal Government became increasingly suspicious, and House’s noble cause became one of unceasing struggle. House and other officers of the national organization were accused of fraud. The government charged that the organization was a mere sham, a way for House and others to make money by requiring membership fees which provided no service whatsoever. Eventually, House was imprisoned, but her cause continued. Time and again the government charges of fraud were proven to be unfounded, and time and again the charges would be resurrected. There was even division within the black community, with many middle-class blacks believing the unfounded charges of fraud, or preferring to pursue Booker T. Washington’s accomodationist message.

House died in 1928 and is buried in an unmarked grave. Her movement for ex-slave pensions continued, but was never the same after her imprisonment. By the 1930s, those persons born in bondage were dying off. The Depression made it difficult to sustain the few chapters that remained, although their dues were often a dollar or less. By the end of the decade, the organization essentially ceased to exist.

There is much more to the story than I have provided here. This is simply a summary. The full story about Callie House and the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association can be found in My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations by Mary Frances Berry, an excellent and detailed work about this tragically forgotten woman, and her heroic struggle for justice and civil rights. Berry spends the bulk of the book creating a detailed biography of House, and the growth and eventual death of the organization, but she also provides a helpful epilogue sketching out the legacy of House’s work throughout the twentieth century, and the continuing campaign for reparations for slavery, even today.

Although I enjoy reading about strong, little-known but heroic women of the past, I found Berry’s work especially intriguing, simply because House’s work – until now – was so tragically ignored and unknown.

© writingreading 2008