February 25th, 2012, by Sean Nixon

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe spends an estimated $1M for a lavish party. Photo: Wikimedia Commons; Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B.

Just when you thought a totalitarian dictator couldn’t do any worse, he goes off and does something to incite a little more anger–again.

Zimbabwean president (read dictator) Robert Mugabe turned 88 years old recently. And, while that isn’t breaking news for any of us, what is shocking is how he celebrated it.

The Guardian writes that the country spent an estimated $1 million on celebrating Mugabe’s birthday. Considering the country’s troubling economic past and inflation rate, the price tag certainly raised a lot of eyebrows.

The level of despair in Zimbabwe is devastating. With the country at impoverished levels, a 50% unemployment rate and a medical emergency on their hands, you would think a serious leader would jump into action. But, apparently all Mugabe wants to do is party.

Among the extravagant festivities included were a soccer tournament and beauty pageant (yes, a beauty pageant). And while Mugabe wined and dined, the citizens of the country were still scrounging for scraps and working desperately for survival.

Mugabe’s actions underscore the tragic conditions the people of Zimbabwe are enduring. The international community must continue to apply pressure to both him and the members of his stronghold ZANU PF party.

In the meantime, as citizens and demonstrators throughout the Diaspora continue to protest against Mugabe’s regime, one can only hope that this year for his birthday Robert Mugabe has a serious crisis of conscience. It’s the one gift that would actually do him and the people of Zimbabwe some good.

February 25th, 2012, by Jeremy Freed

One of my favorite things is discovering new music that’s actually old music. Especially when I’ve actually heard the music in question before, probably a few times, and never made the specific connection to it until the present moment. For the last few days, that has been the case with “Goodbye Horses,” written by William Garvey and performed by Q Lazzarus.

The song was written in the late 1980s and first appeared in popular culture in the soundtrack to Jonathan Demme’s 1988 film Married to the Mob. A few years later, Demme included the song in the soundtrack to Silence of the Lambs, in a memorable scene featuring that film’s antagonist, the serial killer “Buffalo Bill.”  Due to the popularity of that film, and the particularly skillful use of the song in it, Q Lazzarus released it as a single in 1991, along with a B-Side called “White Lines.”

As far as Lazzarus’ musical career goes, there’s very little known about her beyond that, except a cameo in Philadelphia and scattered rumors that she was once a New York taxi driver.

The song, meanwhile, lives on in popular culture, mostly in relation to Silence of the Lambs, and was referenced notably in Family Guy and Clerks 2 (both links slightly NSFW).

While Q Lazzarus remains mysterious, Garvey has been more public about the song, its lyrics and what it means to him, with some explanation posted on his website.

“It has a rather grisly association with the serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs,” Garvey wrote in 1998, “but really the song is about transcendence over those who see the world as only earthy and finite. The horses represent the five senses from Hindu philosophy (The Bhagavad Gita) and the ability to lift one’s perception above these physical limitations and to see beyond this limited Earthly perspective.”

So there you have it. A great song with a cool story behind it. If anyone knows what Q is up to these days, let me know!

February 22nd, 2012, by Jeremy Freed

It’s no secret that the Oscars are in trouble of late. Shrinking attention spans, marathon runtimes and the ubiquitous of everything on the YouTubes have pushed the annual celebrity lovefest into sagging, bloated obsolescence.

It looked like things were off to a good start initially, when Eddie Murphy was tapped to host by event producer Brett Ratner. Although Murphy hasn’t made anyone laugh this century without “doing a voice,” there was a chance he could bring back just a teensy bit of that foul-mouthed irreverence that so endeared him to us in the good ol’ days. A sort of Ricky Gervais effect. Ratner’s big mouth put an end to that when he uttered a gay slur at the premiere of Tower Heist, and the ensuing furor forced him to step down. Murphy followed, which is appropriate, considering his affinity for gay slurs back in the Delirious days.

Anyway, scary-looking super-producer Brian Grazer is in, and he’s bringing Billy Crystal–who will be unfrozen and carefully spraypainted to resemble a live human–with him. Because, really, what better way to enliven a franchise on the brink of sagging, bloated obsolescence than with a sagging, bloated, obsolete comedian. Speaking of not making anyone laugh in the 21st century.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have enjoyed Billy Crystal’s work in the past. When Harry Met Sally? Gold. Throw Momma from the Train? Classic. Morty The Mime, too. But considering Crystal’s last noteworthy performance was pre-Internet age, one must question the logic of this move. There’s also the man’s affinity for shuffling around onstage as his “Jazz Man” character, saying things like “Can you dig it?” and pronouncing “toilet” “terlet,” which it seems fewer people know about than really should. Seriously, you need to listen to this. Ted Danson‘s got nothing on Billy here.

In light of all this, I think the best we can hope for this year is that the Oscars will be short, somewhat amusing and free of racial stereotypes. Which in 2012 does not seem like an unreasonable request.

 

February 21st, 2012, by Jeremy Freed

It’s been 16 months without a new episode, after Don Draper up and married his secretary and since series creator Matthew Weiner reached a deal with AMC for another two seasons of everyone’s favorite 1960s nostalgia-fest, Mad Men. Now, the advent of season 5 approaches, with just over a month left before we’re plunged again into the world of skinny-tie-wearing Madison Avenue creatives, workplace drinking and casual sexism that so many of us have grown to love.

A new teaser from AMC gets the ball rolling this week. While it doesn’t include any new footage, it has just enough style, swagger and Jon Hamm looking cool to get any fan into an anticipatory frenzy. I’ve started making my way through season four again, and was immediately drawn back into the world that Mad Men‘s creators have so painstakingly assembled.

The aforementioned teaser is below, but those in need of a larger dose can revisit the series here. I’d also highly recommend listening to previous interviews with Weiner and articles about the series’ mostly-female writers like this one.

 

February 20th, 2012, by Jeremy Freed

There are very few albums that appeal to me on the same level of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” When it came out in 1986, I was only four years old, but to my parents, South African expats who had come of age listening to Simon and Garfunkel, it was a revelation. As a result, the album was in heavy rotation at our house for most of my formative years.

Last fall, Simon announced that to mark the CD’s 25th anniversary, he would be re-releasing a special boxed set, including a new documentary on the making of the album by Joe Berlinger. I’m a bit skeptical of re-issues, which are normally exercises in getting people to buy something they’ve already bought in different packaging, but I’ll withhold judgment until the details of what else is included in the set are available. The big deal for me, however, is that Simon has promised to not just tour the album again, but bring along the African musicians who collaborated with him on the original recording.

One of the most remarkable things about “Graceland” was its blending of pop and world music, a perfect marriage of Simon’s American roots in dixieland, zydeco and folk, with African sounds from the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. In its rise to become one of the best albums of the decade, “Graceland” also succeeded in introducing the world to these artists, who have since achieved legendary status in their own right.

Of course, Simon doesn’t deserve all of the credit here–in a sense, he was using their unique sounds to improve his own–but by doing it at a time when South Africa and its music were boycotted by the rest of the world, this was a bold step to empowering these musicians, and the cultures from which they came, on the global scene.

Tour dates have not yet been announced, but it’s expected to happen sometime this spring/summer. Check here for updates in the meantime.

February 19th, 2012, by Jeremy Freed

This can’t be the solution. After last year’s production failed to free the Academy Awards ceremony from its declining ratings (despite the help of good-looking hipster James Franco and Anne “tasteful nudity” Hathaway…or perhaps because of them?) the boffins in Hollywood have spent the last year trying to come up with ways to rejuvenate the Oscars. Their solution: No more songs.

Time constraints were cited as the reason for the change, which is understandable given the length of the telecast (shockingly long at 4-plus hours, particularly considering the gnat-like attention spans of most these days), but there must be a better way. Especially since one of the best original song nominees is the delightful “Man or Muppet” from Jason Segal’s The Muppets.

Call me weird, but I can think of no better way to enliven the Oscars than getting Segal, composer (and one half of Flight of the Conchords duo) Bret McKenzie, and a chorus of muppets up on that stage. It would be hilarious! And family-friendly! And appeal to the attention spans of hipster youth!

But no. Instead we get Billy Crystal. Who will probably sing. Which is not an adequate replacement. Actually, it’s pretty much the opposite. They’d never do this to Randy Newman. I think I’ll just watch YouTube instead.

 

 

 

A LOOK BACK
February 13th, 2012, by Staff

Newt Gingrich was one of the first political guests to be featured on Tavis Smiley when the program launched nine years ago.

The author, political consultant and 58th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives cited Ronald Reagan’s 1976 primary as the inspiration for his candidacy as the Republican Party presidential nominee. In the February 7, 2012 presidential primaries, Gingrich raked in 12.8% of voter support in Colorado and 10.8% in Minnesota, but, as of February 8, Gingrich is expected to fall behind contenders Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.

In this 2010 conversation, he discusses the public perception that the Republican Party was not the only opposition to its Democratic counterparts, but also an obstruction to passing bills on the Hill. He also discusses the possibility of throwing his hat in the 2012 presidential race.

Watch the 2010 conversation and share your thoughts.

(View full post to see video)
A LOOK BACK
February 13th, 2012, by Staff

Taking a quick stroll down memory lane isn’t a bad thing.

In a world where breaking news changes faster than the blink of an eye, “A Look Back” will offer a chance to revisit past Tavis Smiley conversations. From politicians and entertainers, to athletes, authors and other newsmakers, we’ve got it all. As current events unfold, we will feature relevant guest interviews–straight from the vault.

First from the vault: Newt Gingrich.

SEEN & HEARD
February 10th, 2012, by Staff

Check out images of and quotes from Connie Rice, Michel Hazanavicius, Wael Ghonim, Viola Davis & Octavia Spencer and Suze Orman.

Click on an image below to open the gallery.

All images by Van Evers, Tavis Smiley Media, Inc.

January 30th, 2012, by Sean Nixon

Russian protestor and activist Alexei Navalny Photo: Alexey Yushenkov

In the politically repressed country of Russia, many citizens are in social and political unrest due, in part, to the less than perfect policies of Vladimir Putin. The former president-turned-prime minister-turned political puppet master is at the center of the country’s unrest. His thirst for control over the Russian government has resulted in an acquisition of power that has now spanned more than a decade.

Seeking to restore stability and democratic change in the region through a firebrand crusade against Russia’s strong arm tactics is Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption lawyer and blogger. This Russian lawyer-turned-online whistle blower began to draw a following as he exposed the shady dealings and fraudulent activity at the hand of state-owned utilities and companies on the web for all to see.

While many see him as a modern day folk hero, he’s no angel. Some say his nationalistic views and ideology are too extreme, with others pointing out his ability to stir the spirit of civil protest while calling on others to take a stand. As a result of his activism, he’s seen as a threat to the Russian government. He’s been the target of character attacks, investigated by officials and was recently put in jail for his resistance at a protest rally.

Navalny’s actions are indicative of the new area of activism for rights that’s taking place globally. Whether in Tunisia, Egypt, parts of the Middle East or the Occupy movements of North America and around the world, issues of economic mobility, the police state and social unrest are at the forefront of people’s lives in these modern times.

Navalny’s efforts in shedding light on the corruption in Russia, along with his ability to channel the anger of the citizens that made his own government take notice, make him not only a force to be reckoned with, but, on a global scale, the newest protestor and blogger you should know.

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