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February 06, 1992 - Image 12

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1992-02-06

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01

Page 4-The Michigan Daily -Weekend etc. - FebruaryV6, 1992

J.J.'s gone, but look
who 's taking his place
by Stephen Henderson
I can see it now, as clear as if it was on the tube just last night: A tall and
lanky JJ. Evans, decked out in a red pajama suit, gulping down the last bit
of Kool-Aid and bellowing out, "DY-NO-MIIIITE!!!"
The audience roars, the other characters chuckle and the camera zooms
in on J.J.'s gap-toothed, over-bitten smile. Chalk up another one for the
perpetuation of Black stereotypes in TV-land.
Unfortunately, that kind of scene was all too common on my 12-inch
black-and-white while I was growing up during the late '70s and early '80s.
The Black characters on that screen did and said things that could only
have confirmed the racist notions that too often poison our society -
especially those concerning Black males.
And even though we seem to have gotten past much of that with the
Cosby explosion and its positive fallout, I can't help but think that in many
instances TV has abandoned the stereotypes for equally inaccurate portray-
als. Black people on TV may no longer look.or act like J.J., but some of the
newer characters aren't much more authentic.
There's no question in my mind, though, whether things on the whole
are better now than they were 10 or 15 years ago. Back then, whether J.J.
Evans was playing the buffoon on Good Times, or Fred and Lamont
Sanford were drudging up Amos n' Andy like self-mockery on Sanford and
Son, Black characters usually were created more to be laughed at than
laughed with. Black males in particular were insulting caricatures of
themselves - whether they were poor, lazy, foolish or all three.
Even the characters on The Jeffersons, who had supposedly "moved on
up" out of the stereotypical Black ghetto, didn't escape being cast into
archaic portrayals of Black life.
George Jefferson owned his own
business and had a little money, but his
cocky swagger and cnsistently
mouthy yet empty prose made him the
convenient butt of the show's humor. It
was as if the other characters thought
his arrogance was funny because they
knew he was really ignorant.
Now we've got shows like Cosby,
the NBC Monday night hit Fresh
Prince of Bel Air, and ABC's Family
Matters- shows that were created
specifically to get rid of the negative the little tLre
Black stereotypes on TV, and to show
Black life as many viewers had never imagined it. All of a sudden, there are
purported reflections of the Black middle-class on the tube - and in some
cases, the Black upper-class.
But I think many of these noble attempts have gone too far.
The Cosby Show is perhaps the most obvious example. The show
involves a supposedly middle-class family: a mother who's a lawyer, a
father who's a doctor, and five kids. They live in a lavish New York
brownstone and rarely, if ever, have to worry about money.
That in itself is an extreme. I don't know any family - Black or white
that's as well-off and carefree as the Huxtables. It's patently unrealistic,
and although it sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from Good Times,
it's just as extreme. The Huxtables are no more an accurate representation
of Black life -or any life - than the Evanses were; they're just less
offensive.
Shows like ABC's Family Matters or NBC's The Fresh Prince of Bel
Air in some ways offer more common reflections of Black life than Cosby
does, but even they often rely too heavily on the extreme to get a laugh.
And too often, that laugh is at the expense of a character's integrity.
Family Matters' Steve Erkle, the unusually nerdy next door neighbor, is
in many ways cut from the same cloth as J.J. Evans. Because of his quirky
personality, off-beat dress and physique, he's the fall-guy for the show's
jokes. And even though his character is not necessarily a racial stereotype,
he lacks the same amount of sophistication and respect that J.J. did.
The family on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, though certainly more
common than the Cosby clan, also includes characters who perpetuate
negative Black images - specifically the Black middle-class. The family's
-
children are portrayed as little more than "Black kids who've lost their
identity," and constantly provide fodder for the show's centerpiece, rap star
Will Smith.

I probably wouldn't object so strongly to these characters if I weren't so
familiar with TV's not-so-distant past - where J.J. and George dominated
the screen. Indeed, many white characters on other shows play equally
insulting roles.
But in the context of the historical degradation of Blacks on TV, and the
influence that may or may not have had on people's attitudes, I'm wary of
any negative or oterwise unrealistic TV portrayals of Blacks.
TV writers and producers rarely seem to acknowledge that context or
respond accordingly.
As a result, Black characters nowadays may not act or talk like J.J., but
many of them convey messages that are just as damaging.
Explore and enjoy your faith
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0

The members of Southgoing ZAK love to be goofy yet sincere. Here, the gang stands outside and ponders the finer, simpler things in life - whether
it's a kiss, walking to Taco Bell, other Dr. Seuss books they can use for songs, or how the hell Julie exactly acquired her law enforcement jacket
Horton hears a rockin' who
Southgoing ZAK sings of strange-colored eggs and ham

by Nima Hodaei
Julie described our band as being teeth, tits
and testosterone," explains John Marshall,
guitarist for Southgoing ZAK. Although this
description hardly seems befitting by itself, it
does capture a small piece of the essence of this
unique Ann Arbor band. Always joking, yet
possessing a serious side, the members of South-
going ZAK make you feel like you've rediscov-
ered what making and listening to music is all
about - having fun.
Comprised, of lead vocalist Julie Sparling,
drummer Jon Youtt, lead guitarist Per Bloland,
newly acquired bassist Geoff Sanoff, and Mar-
shall, Southgoing ZAK has begun to attract at-
tention with its addictive sound and interesting
song subjects, which include a song entirely
composed of Dr. Seuss lyrics.
Their task has been a slow and painful one,
especially in a town such as Ann Arbor, where
although there is a great wealth of musical tal-
ent, there's a substantial lack of venues in which
to perform.
"(Ann Arbor is) not conducive to new bands
anymore," says Youtt. "As I hear, there are a
number of bands in town who don't play because
there is no place to play. The one booking agent
in town is not receptive to new talent."
For the members of the band, however, this
hurdle of acceptance and recognition has been
somewhat overcome. Quite possibly the biggest
factor for this has been their exceptional live
shows. With Bloland and Marshall tossing
down their guitars and jumping into the crowd
for a bit of dancing, Southgoing ZAK is not your
everyday rock and roll band.
"I think we try to break the barrier between

audience and band, or at least confuse the barrier,
so it's more inviting," states Youtt. "We're not
like, 'Yeah, we're up here and you're not. You're
watching us.' We happen to be on stage, and we
happen to be playing music, (so) join us."
"For the exception of myself, I think this
band has got the presence of mind to not have an
attitude on stage," adds Sanoff. "It comes out a
lot more personably, because no one's trying to
be anything that they're not. It's more enjoying
it and being silly."
Silly is a common word used to describe the
antics of the band. The group's sense of humor is
quite apparent in person and transfers over well
from their album, Thump, Strum and Stumble.
Even descriptions such as 'quirky pop,' 'thrashy
folk' and 'Edie Brickell on speed,' convey this
silliness. Except for the Brickell comparison,
which results in a collective shudder from the
band, ZAK does seem to appreciate this distinc-
tion from other bands.
"It's got some thrash," says Bloland of their
sound. "It's got some melodic vocals from the
Great Siren of the Playground (i.e. Sparling) ...
our whole outlook is kind of silly. I rarely turn
my distortion off, so we're not up there doing
elevator music."
Sparling also points out that sometimes
silliness is only simplicity. "I just write about
the simple, wonderful things - waiting for a
kiss, or looking up at branches when you're
walking to Taco Bell," she says. "I think that's
the simple, good things in life that we all think
are too simple to talk about - which is bull-
shit!"
Known for a large turnover in personnel
changes, Southgoing ZAK will have to deal with
yet another one this month - the departure of

Bloland. "I'm going to move out to San Fran-
cisco with the rest of the Ann Arbor bands that
are out there," he says. "So for me this is kind of
running to the end. It's not going to change the
band though."
The rest of ZAK agrees that Bloland's exo-
dus won't be the end of the group. "It will be re-
structuring after Per leaves," explains Youtt.
"I want to write new stuff. This material has
been played a lot. In the immediate future, after
we restructure, it's going to be a matter of see-
ing what tunes come up."
"It's not like this band is on the fringes of
breaking up," says Marshall. "Things change.
Members change."
Perhaps Sparling describes the situation of
the group best, when she explains the general
philosophy she brings to the band.
"I recently had a chance to stop this whole
stuff and to move to Portugal and learn a lan-
guage and become a teacher and live with a mil-
lion dollar person, and virtually be taken care of
for the rest of my life," she says. "I thought,
'Wait a minute.' Because there's a chance,
whether we make it or not, to try it. There's a
chance to write music, to play it, to tour, and to
give it a shot. It's the ability to make an effort
and talk about how many times I fucked up, and
at least say I did."
SOUTHGOING ZAK will perform an acoustic
set at 4 p.m. tomorrow at P.J.'s Records fol-
lowed by a concert at Rick's at 10 p.m.
Chicago's THE GROOVE DIGGERS will be
opening. Call 996-2747 for more info.

Lyman's angelic legwork diverts, dazzles

by Maureen Janson
"'Universities are the best place to
get a dance education," says Peggy
Lyman, stretching her long legs out
on the coffee table. "Universities
draw teachers in from everywhere.
Even Martha Graham used to teach
in universities." Lyman's incredible
dance background suggests that she
is an expert on the subject.
The making of a good dancer, ac-
cording to Lyman, starts with a uni-
versity education by a variety of
teachers, then starts over again with
a specific teacher or company.
"After earning a degree, you train
for another few years with whom
you want to dance for."
Lyman became part of the Uni-
versity Dance Company's training

when she recently visited to assist
with rehearsals for Martha Gra-
ham's Diversion of Angels. Fifteen
years as a principal dancer with the
Graham Company and then a stint as
its rehearsal director makes Lyman
an authority on the Graham tech-
nique and choreography. It also has
given her an intelligent, insightful
philosophy of dance.
Her own career came about dif-
fereniy. Originally from Ohio,
Ly ii began dancing as a child; by
aW 4 she was ambitiously teaching
be in her basement. With five
othe., children to worry about, her
parents were happy that she was
able to occupy herself with
"something good."
"I was very focused. I had sup-
portive parents and an extraordinary

teacher named Myrl Laurence," re-
calls Lyman. Laurence saw the
young dancer's potential and sent
Lyman to Chicago for several sum-
mers of professional training where
she "learned not just about dance,
but about living."
As a high school graduate, Ly-
man moved to New York on her
own and began studying at the Jof-
frey Ballet School. Continuing to
grow, she soon reached nearly six
feet in height and became too tall to
dance classical ballet roles on
pointe. Lyman, frustrated, returned
to Ohio where she took a job with
Jefferson James' Contemporary
Dance Theatre. She stayed with
James for a year, "discovering a
whole new way of expression" in
modern dance where height didn't

matter.
Eager for more challenge, Lyman
tried New York again. "I got really
lucky," she says. "It was one of
those things where you're in the
right place at the right time."
While most students study for two
or three years before acceptance, af-
ter eight months of intensive study
at the Graham school, she was ac-
cepted into their company.
Lyman often found it difficult
to work for Graham. "She abso-
lutely bent everything her.way!"
Lyman says. "Some of us fdught it
more than others. When you're
working with someone of that
dynamic, of that magnitude, you
have to be strong. I was a fighter."
It was determination that earned
Lyman the title role (her personal
favorite) in Graham's only full-
length ballet, Clytemnestra. Gra-
ham, who had originally danced the
role, was reluctant to give it away.
But after spending a full year of in-
tense rehearsal, Lyman was permit-
See LYmAN, Page 5
1 .

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