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November 30, 1993 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1993-11-30

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Rodriguez searches for self

By WILL MATTHEWS
In his collection of inter-connected essays
"Days of Obligation: An Argument with My
Mexican Father," Pulitzer Prize nominee Richard
Rodriguez furthers the art of the essay in a sublime
fashion, shaping disparate ideas, entities and ele-
ments into a coherent idea and purpose.
The sub-title, "An Argument with My Mexi-
can Father," is indicative of Rodriguez's theme of
a conflict of identity with his father - a micro-
cosm analogous to the relationship and exchange
between Mexico and the United States. "I've been
writing a book about comedy and tragedy,"
Rodriguez explaines in his introduction. "In my
mind, in my life, Mexico plays the tragic part;
California plays the role of America's wild child."
In "Late Victorians," Rodriguez examines,
through the architecture and changing cultural
and urban face of San Francisco, a place where
this comedy and tragedy unite in the synthesis of
the cultural dialectic and conflict between old and
young cultures - between father and son. In the
San Francisco of the emerging AIDS crisis, he
finds a city that is young and old, facing death
through youthful eyes. "The gay community of
San Francisco," he writes, "having found free-
dom, consented to necessity."
"An Argument with My Mexican Father" is
really about ( my father's) prediction in my mind
that tragedy would catch-up to me in California,"

he explained. "The optimism of the America I was
born into - where you could be anything you
want, you could discover yourselfor remake your-
self or constantly reassemble yourself- tragedy
had no place in such a world. There was no sense
of inevitability there was no sense of finitude."
"Now California has become a sad place ... for
me San Francisco is a haunted city. I've seen
literally, in the last 10 years, over 30 friends of
mine die. I cannot tell you how that has changed
my perception of possibility. I've become my
father in some weird way. The reason I wrote the
book as I did [reversing the order of the chapters]
is that ... I did not want my father's Mexican-ness
to lord over the book and I thought that there was
wisdom in the Protestant optimism of the Califor-
nia I was born into ... I wanted the last word to be
given to the boy, the dreamer ... There are things
that only a young man knows. I wanted to preserve
the dialectic."
"I will present this life in reverse," he writes in
the introduction. "After all, the journey my par-
ents took from Mexico to America was a journey
from an ancient culture to a youthful one-back-
ward in time ... I believe the best resolution in the
debate between comedy and tragedy is irresolu-
tion, since both sides can claim wisdom."
In his essays, Rodriguez explores the constant
change and continual evolution of the American
Dream from various cultural and ethnic points of

view. "Here in the United States one feels more
and more the sensation that the country is growing
older and more timid and more afraid of the
future," Rodriguez said. "We want to settle down.
We want to protect what we have." He described
an America, a California, that is made anxious by
the enormous flux of immigrants. "It's a debate
between a youthful 19th century version of
America. The immigrant is coming in search of an
America which the native-borns insist doesn't
exist anymore-that that future doesn't work any-
more."
Richard Rodriguez is an important contempo-
rary writer. By arguing with his Mexican father
and his father's cultural identity, explofes his own
identity - an exploration that is indicative of and
analogous to the youthful United States and its
search for identity. What emerges is a world of
complementary and seemingly contradictory op-
posites: resolution through irresolution, an Ameri-
can tradition that consists of a lack oftradition and
youth that becomes age and age that becomes
youth. As a Mexican American, a Californian, a
Catholic, a homosexual and an Indian, Rodriguez
is all of these things and none of them - he is an
American who is defined by a lack of definition,
examining and exploring an America that is in a
similar, beautiful and challenging predicament.
Richard Rodriguez will be reading fron his
work tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Borders.

"Josh and S.A.M.' is worth a few good laughs with a younger sibling.
Refreshn buddies
By SARAH STEWART
If the idea of two little boys driving alone to Canada sounds like the premise
for a great film, then rush to see "Josh and S.A.M." But take along a young
friend, because it's likely he or she will get even more out of it than you will.
At first, 12-year-old Josh (Jacob Tierney) and his little brother Sam (Noah
Fleiss) seem likee lot of other kids - their parents are divorced, they hate their
mom's boyfriend and their father and his stepfamily are less than ideal. But
unlike other victims of divorce, Josh
and Sam become wrapped up in an
Josh and S.A.M. adventure that surpasses the complex-
ity of their family situation.
Directed by Billy Weber; written by Josh starts out as a stereotypical
Frank Deese; with Noah Fleiss and obnoxious older brother, but when he
Jacob Tierney. convinces Sam that he is a "Strategi-
cally Altered Mutant" (S.A.M.) whose
purpose in life is to serve as a government soldier in a secret war being fought
in Africa, it's obvious that he's capable of more than petty wisecracks. In fact,
tricking Sam into believing himself to be "genetically altered," originally a
ploy to encourage him to hate their father, smoothly evolves into a daring road
trip from Arizona to Canada. Sam must flee the United States to avoid his war
duties and Josh seeks safety over the border after supposedly committing
murder.
It's not an easy journey, though. Josh eventually abandons his charade with
Sam, but Sam will not accept his former status and stubbornly insists that he
is indeed aproduct ofgenetic alteration. To Josh's dismay, Sam foolishly takes
'Sam foolishly takes risks he would not have
otherwise taken, and the audience is
subsequently entertained.'
risks he would not have otherwise taken, and the audience is subsequently
entertained. In one instance, Josh wakes up to find Sam driving full speed
down the center of an orchard. When he finally stops and Josh insists that he
drive instead, they reassure the farmer who happens to ride by on his tractor
that they are"just changing drivers." From an adult perspective, this serves as
a reminder of just how far-fetched the story is.
Nonetheless, "Josh and S.A.M." is laced with refreshingly clever humor.
Sam is hilarious with a Kotex on his head, Josh's big brotherly way of covering
a wound. The joke is funny for an unusually long time and reaches a climax
when Sam is addressed by a group of bullies as "Kotex head."
Halfway into their travels, Josh and Sam are joined by Allison (Martha
Plimpton), a bohemian hitch-hiker who quickly adopts the image of the
"Liberty Maid," the make-believe commander of S.A.M., trying to reach the
safety of the Canadian border. She brings the boys' abilities down to earth as
they quickly respond to her as a respected authority figure. In this sense, the
film exposes the vulnerability of children hiding behind harsh exteriors, but
unfortunately, Allison's exit following Sam's inevitable disappearance is
overly abrupt and tends to diminish her importance.
Everything works out in the end, but that's not saying less for "Josh and
S.A.M." Fleiss and Tierney do superb jobs in their respective roles, creating
visibly more complex characters than many other young actors, while the plot
remains entertaining throughout.
JOSH AND S.A.M. is playing at Showcase.

While the music the Last Poets have put out may well indeed be endangered, it
Return of Hassan and C

By FORREST GREEN 111
The type of soul music created by
artists such as the Last Poets has al-
ways been endangered in the United
States. Historically, just one genera-
tion has been enough time for Black
people to forget, reject or otherwise
lose whole traditions of the precious
soul art that is theirs by birthright. But
in 1970, when Umar Bin Hassan,
UmaBn Hassan
Be Bop Or Be Dead
Island
Alafia Pudim and Abiodun Oyewole
released the pivotal album "The Last
Poets," their apocalyptic, post-jazz,
neo-hip-hop musical message would
not soon be forgotten. And more than
20 years later, to paraphrase their
1970 classic, niggers are still scared
of revolution - proof that the return
of poets Bin Hassan and Oyewole
with the release "Be Bop Or Be Dead"
is long overdue.
Containing re-recordings of both
the 1971 release "This Is Madness" as
well as "Niggers Are Scared Of Revo-
lution," "Be Bop Or Be Dead" up-
dates the timeless message preached
by the Last Poets: Only through genu-
ine struggle can oppressed people free
themselves. The difference is inUmar
himself, whose spoken words have
evolved from the desperate catcalling

Calling all writers
Since there are so many people who read Playboy just for the articles,
Playboy announces their ninth annual College Fiction contest. Are you one
of those people who spends late nights pounding away at the keyboard,
crafting a tale of power, sexual desire and unrequited love? Send your
manuscript and a three by five card with your name, address, phone number
and college affiliatiom to: Playboy College Fiction Contest, 680 North Lake
Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois, 60611. Deadline is January 1, which gives
you plenty of time to go out and have a few cheap thrills for story ideas.
Takes Two to Tango
Basement Arts and the RC Players present "Tango: Deconstructed,"
a"radical reconception" of "Tango," a 1968 play by playwright and former
journalist Slawomir Mrozek.It deals with a family of former revolutionaries
who live in a house entirely free from order and conventions, yet full of
disenchantment and desolation. This highly experimental production is an
attempt to progect "Tango" into a more appropriate theatrical form. It runs
at 5 p.m. December 2-4 at the Arena Theater, and admission is free.

of dated Black Power rhetoric into a
lyricism that is resonant with spiritual
strength. For the most part, Umar's
old school references pin his timeless
themes to a dense cultural background.
The album's only faults occasionally
show through in the painfully con-
temporary production.
As Umar seems to have matured
in so many ways that his cause has
not, his poetry now reveals a determi-
nation tempered with patience and
insight. When he revives familiar
images of a society teetering on the
edge of disaster, his lyrics evoke cul-
tural paradigms. "Am" finds Umar
challenging what he sees as psychic
sickness in Black communities with a
symbolic question, "What happened
to the rhythm?" Dated social con-
cepts of integration and separation
seem to have sapped Umar's commu-
nity of its spirituality and its values.
By the track's end, we are left with a
single question - to resist or not.
The
BIRD OF PARADISE
is the place for your
Christmas party.
Afternoons and early
evenings preferred
Call Jake at 662-8310

is back and forceful as ever.
yewole long
More often than not, the music
delivers. "Niggers Are Scared Of
Revolution," re-recorded under the
watchful eye of producer Bill Laswell,
wavers disturbingly between hip-hop
electro-static and a stampede of con-
gas. The retro-jazz piece "Love"
grooves with a surprisingly straight-
forward performance on Hammond
organ by Bernie Worrell and drum-
ming by Buddy Miles. But thealbum's
biggest surprise is the alternative metal
mix to "This Is Madness" featuring
Bootsy Collins on guitar. This furious
sub-version of the Poets classic blends
the closely tied genres of conscious
rap, Funkadelic Motor City rock and
protest poetry with overwhelming
power.

overdue
The New School of rappers has
unveiled numerous ways to eliminate
racism and, hopefully, uplift Black
people through the medium of rap. X
Clan and Poor Righteous Teachers
advance their respective programs on
vinyl and the streets. Public Enemy
turns the twin systems of politics and
entertainment upon their makers with
brilliant effect. On her debut album,
Sister Souljah explains with great
detail methods in which racists prac-
tice racism, in every area of activity,
all in the space of a five-minute track.
But for old-timers like Umar Bin
Hassan, it can be much-simpler. As
easy as picking up the spear you've
passed down the line and dusting it
off.

I

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