Tuesday 30 December 2014

Adeyinka Makinde - My Top Five Blogs for 2014

PHOTO: John Frederick Peto


1. A World War in the Offing: Why US-NATO Geo-Political Policy May Lead to a Third World War (Sept. 2014)

2. The Ukraine Crisis: The Case for Russia (March 2014)

3. The Crisis of ISIS – A Debacle of a Great Game in Iraq and Syria (August 2014)

4. Citations of the Writings of Adeyinka Makinde (November 2014)

5. Neighborhood Bully: Deconstructing the Lyrics of Bob Dylan in the light of the Gaza Crisis (July 2014)

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2014)

Thursday 11 December 2014

Elvis: Ruminations on Elvis Presley and Black America


The thing about Elvis is that any misgivings about him as a man who 'copied' or 'stole' Afro-American music is that it has to be understood that he came from the dominant culture who would only accept one who was of them as number one.

There was an aesthetic aspect as well because there were talented white artists who could not be promoted in the manner that he was because they did not have the 'looks'.

He definitely adapted a great degree of his overall style and packaging: singing, moving (apart from the later karate stuff) and clothing from observing and imbibing the cultural impulse of black America.

One huge strike against him was his Southern roots and the whole negativity of the black experience in that part of the United States under the respective regimes of slave society and later, ‘Jim Crow’ Apartheid.

There were always all sorts of rumours about his racial attitudes. “I could never kiss a Mexican (or black) woman”, “Niggers are only good for shining my shoes” and so on. I don’t think they were definitively corroborated.

He was however constricted by the racial mores of the time. His friend Sammy Davis Jr said Elvis told him that he wished they could both make a movie together but that his audience base (meaning whites and particularly those from below the ‘Mason-Dixon Line’) would not accept it.

Did this demonstrate a certain spinelessness and lack of moral courage on his part? Or was he just being pragmatic?

There are those who feel that he could and should have done more to break down racial barriers. Others feel that just the way he expressed his music and his giving credit to those blacks who had influenced him was enough.

He fell in to self parody and despite his amazing ‘comeback’ show on TV and a revival of sorts in Las Vegas, the case can be forcefully made that his best and most essential work was in the two or three year period that followed the inception of his career.

He stands accused of wasting his talent on terrible Hollywood movies, wearing tacky stage attires, and not attempting to write his own songs and push the boundaries of his creativity in the age of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and later of the introspective singer-songwriters.

Many of his fans are just content that he was what he was regardless. A guy who could sing a many styles with great aplomb and who paved the way for countless black and white musicians.

That may be cold comfort for the militant black school of thought that postulates him as a "straight-up racist" who was “simple and plain”. His pelvic gyrations; a pale imitation of more ‘robustly’ physical and sensual movements by a multitude of earlier R & B performers mark him down for ridicule and even disdain:

“If Elvis is King, who is James Brown; God?” wrote Amiri Baraka.

But it should not be forgotten that Elvis took risks by being a pioneer in his adaptation of black culture. He received huge stick for perpetuating what some of his Southern brethren were referring to as “degenerate nigger music” and the threat it posed to the social order by the fact that blacks and whites were digging his music whether listening to it on the radio or live at (segregated) venues.

He was odd in many ways. Much has been made of the way in which he conducted his private life. But this had a lot to do with his living within a kind of fame that few humans could comprehend. So many people often remember how well mannered and humble he appeared to be in his interactions.

He may not be ‘The King’ to all, and the devotion shown to him by many of his fans may appear over the top and devoid of rationality, but his impact on the course of music history cannot be denied and should not be denigrated.

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2014)

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Stephen King’s ‘11/22/63’: A Cogitation on Dick Tiger, Boxing and President Kennedy

The genius of Stephen King’s engaging dramas of popular literature has consistently involved the author’s adeptness at creating a narrative full of complex backgrounds that are inhabited by characters possessing the ineluctable quality of drawing upon the reservoir of empathetic responses from his readers.

These fictional characters often represent credible composites of the spectrum of the human psychological condition: from the characterisations of supernaturally directed protagonists to the ordinary ones, they have proved memorable because of the realism with which they are imbued.

The challenge for King in ‘11/22/63’ was to realistically portray historical figures in his foray into the genre of historical fiction. However, the international bestselling novelist left many of his fans who are boxing followers rather peeved at his representation of Dick Tiger in the book which was published back in November 2011.

It is the story of a man named Jake Epping, a high school teacher from Maine, who is transported back in time in order to try to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

He’s actually transported to 1958 and has to live for five more years in order to achieve his task. So Epping sustains himself by placing bets on major sporting events - the final one of which involves Tiger, and which he watches via close circuit television at the Dallas Civic Auditorium.

Thus, Tiger enters the story in August of 1963 when he suffers an upset fifth round defeat to an ‘older’ fictional journeyman Texan named Tom ‘The Hammer’ Case at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

The scenario is implausible; even shocking for historically-minded boxing fans. And while King’s storytelling style has not required him to be a stickler for detailed facts in the mould of an Arthur Hailey or James Michener, the decision to portray Tiger in these circumstances does not seemingly tally with that of a writer whose research for this novel encompassed “a six-foot high stack of books.”

Whereas King presents Tiger as a rising title contender, Tiger was in fact at the time the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. In August of 1963, he had successfully defended the crown he had won from Gene Fullmer the previous year against Fullmer in the Nigerian city of Ibadan in what had been Black Africa’s first staged world title bout – fully eleven years before the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

Tiger did lose a fight in 1963. His defeat in December of that year at the Atlantic City Convention Hall came against Joey Giardello.

But Giardello was a ‘real’ enough boxer; a talented box-puncher who had been a perennial contender for the world middleweight title which some observers felt had been denied him in a foul-filled contest against Fullmer in 1960.

Tiger did not lose by knockout to over-the-hill challengers in the early 1960s, or, come to think of it, in the latter part of his career when his sole knockout loss came by way of the incendiary fists of the legendary Bob Foster.

In 1968, Tiger was an ageing world light heavyweight champion who gave away a great deal of height, weight and reach to the almost decade younger Foster who at the time was already being acknowledged as an all-time division great.

‘Tom Case’s' defeat of Dick Tiger is puzzling.

Tiger was extremely durable. He had a formidable ‘chin’; boxing parlance for a pugilist apt at absorbing punches that would knockout or at least knockdown conventional foes. How else would he have survived two knockdowns against the paralyzing shots he had to absorb from the hard-hitting light heavyweight contender, Frankie DePaula?

How could he successfully neutralise many of a generation of the middleweight division’s all-time finest who included the powerful punchers: Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, Jose ‘Monon’ Gonzalez and Henry Hank?

And it wasn’t as if he designed a style which involved absorbing a lot of punches as was the approach of Joe Frazier. Tiger aptly evaded punches by a deft combination of head movement and footwork. His noble countenance captured in the aftermath of his retirement; bereft of lumps or scars, testified to this.

Interestingly enough given King’s book’s portrayal of the outcome of Tiger’s fictional bout as having some bearing on the protagonist’s objective in regard to Kennedy, it is worth noting that the late president did have some awareness of Dick Tiger’s career.   

In a satellite telephone conversation with the Nigerian Prime Minister Abubaker Tafawa Balewa in August of 1963, Kennedy had light-heartedly interjected that “we look forward to having Dick Tiger come over here”

Perhaps he had been briefed beforehand by a member of staff to mention Tiger’s name as part of a charm offensive in a brief conversation with another world leader. But then again JFK had some credentials as a bona fide boxing fan.

He had watched heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson defend his title against Tom McNeely by close circuit feed at the White House in December of 1961. One month after the bout, he met Patterson at the White House in between his Oval Office meetings with the ambassadors from Ireland and China. Patterson had found Kennedy’s knowledge of boxing to be a “pleasant revelation”.

The president had also taken the trouble to respond to Joey Giardello’s invitation to watch his challenge to Dick Tiger’s crown in December of 1963. Kennedy responded that his busy schedule would not allow for that.

Giardello received the reply the day after the president’s assassination.

In his heyday Tiger’s accomplishments as a pugilist were of such substance that his name was on the lips of political leaders such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah as well as on the Honours List of Queen Elizabeth of Britain.

He lent his great name and the weight of his reputation to the cause of Biafran separation.

But it was in the last halcyon era of boxing at Madison Square Garden; the Mecca of the sport where the fans worshipped this granite hewn, down-to-earth and humble practitioner of the manly art plying his trade on the squared ring canvas below the brilliant glare of klieg lights that Tiger’s name was most assuredly spoken and his craft adoringly appreciated.

They had seen him lose; invariably on points to fleet-footed practitioners who could contrive to evade his great strength, but the thought to them of an over-the-hill journeyman knocking out one of the most resilient fighters in middleweight history would have been almost beyond the limits of their collective imagination.

But then again King’s novel is about ‘alternative history’. It is fiction.

It is pure fantasy.

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal..